Independence Avenue Community Improvement District outfitted with cameras to catch crime

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Cameras caught a kidnapper in Kansas City, and community activists hope that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Independence Avenue, a stretch of road known for its crime statistics more than its commerce, is Ground Zero for this new Big Brother undertaking.

Eight cameras can now see everything happening along the stretch - from the Paseo to Bennington.

Kansas City police officers can see Independence Avenue from the street in their cars, from the air with their helicopters and drones, and now, from three miles away - on computers - at Police Headquarters downtown.

"Cameras can be anywhere," said Bobbi Baker-Hughes. "They're on the dash of my car."

They are now also outside the office of her Independence Avenue Community Improvement District.

Through a 1 percent CID sales tax within the Independence Avenue Community Improvement District (which is mainly Independence Avenue from The Paseo to east of Bennington), the organization raised more than $75,000. It purchased eight cameras and four license plate readers with those funds, and installed them along that stretch of road.

"It makes us feel good, it makes us feel like the community improvement district really is reaching into the community in the best way we can," said Baker-Hughes.

Six of the most recent cameras were installed along Independence Avenue three weeks ago. Two weeks ago, Baker-Hughes says one caught a crime.

"A young lady was kidnapped," said Baker-Hughes, "and she was dropped off at Independence Avenue and Hardesty. (Using the cameras) the police were reviewing that location and saw her wandering around. They were also then able to go back and review the cameras, the video, and see who had dropped her off."

The cameras are only used to review a crime after it has been committed, said Sgt. Patrick Rauzi. Namely, he said, because Kansas City police aren't staffed to monitor the cameras full-time.

In total, Kansas City police have access to more than 1,500 cameras in the metro area at any time. Main Street and Broadway Community Improvement Districts have also said they will purchase cameras for their neighborhoods. Rauzi expects police to have access to more than 2,000 cameras by the end of 2017.

Police, he added, are open to any help they can get; even if it comes from a camera.

"Any new cameras that we get are a benefit," he said. "We didn't have eyes on the avenue before, now we do. We didn't have this information before - now we do."

Baker Hughes envisions the cameras cutting crime; not just along Independence Avenue, but across the metro.

"We hope that what this helps the KCPD do," she said, "is to find those criminals and address those situations so they don't go into other neighborhoods, whether it be Blue Springs or Lee's Summit."

The Executive Director for the Missouri Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union released a statement on the cameras Thursday afternoon.

"The use of surveillance systems by the government is troubling," said Jeffrey Mittman in an emailed statement.

"Measures that erode personal privacy make us less free and no safer. Surveillance systems, once installed, rarely remain confined to their original purpose. Communities, particularly ones that have been disproportionately targets of law enforcement surveillance, should always be consulted in these decisions. Measures must be put in place to avoid the abuse of personal information."