Security camera bill waits on study


If Baltimore County does most of the heavy lifting on the issue of outdoor mall security cameras, that suits Anne Arundel County Council members who support such an effort just fine.

C. Edward Middlebrooks, a Severn Republican, agreed with his council colleagues to withdraw a bill Monday night that would have required shopping centers with 15 or more stores to install a surveillance system in their parking lots.

Middlebrooks said he hopes to reintroduce a similar measure in the fall - after getting input from Baltimore County on a similar bill that passed there in March. The Baltimore County measure calls for some mall operators to install cameras and for a task force to study security issues at malls.

Anne Arundel council members said the discussion up north might help reshape a bill that drew objections from area business interests.

"If they are going through the same research, it makes sense to follow their lead," said County Council Chairman Ronald C. Dillon Jr., one of four sponsors of the bill.

A majority of Anne Arundel's seven-member council generally supports the idea of installing outdoor cameras, and they said that learning from Baltimore County's task force will help smooth the rough edges.

"We can take advantage of their work," said County Councilwoman Cathleen M. Vitale, a Severna Park Republican and a sponsor of the bill.

Middlebrooks said that he acted for the same reason as Baltimore County officials: the fatal shooting in February of a private-school dean in a parking lot at Towson Town Center.

The Anne Arundel sponsors said they supported the bill on the basis of providing extra security at large shopping centers that have parking garages. But they soon realized that many Anne Arundel strip malls that are occupied solely by small businesses and attract a fraction of the retail traffic that bigger malls do would also be affected by the measure.

"Anne Arundel County is made up of moms and pops," said Vitale, who agreed that the strain on those businesses sharing the cost of a surveillance system would be too great.

The bill introduced by Middlebrooks provided no funding aid for affected shopping centers. Baltimore County's measure did.

"We need to put together some form of funding component," Vitale said.

For the standpoint of retail traffic, some council members objected to using the number of stores as the standard for whether to force shopping malls to install cameras.

Middlebrooks, Vitale and Dillon, a Pasadena Republican, supported basing that determination on the area of parking lots or the number of spaces.

"We want to do something limiting it to large shopping centers," said County Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk, a Democrat who represents the Annapolis area.

Dillon said he thought that big-box retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart, which often sit in shopping centers with fewer than 15 stores, attract much more traffic on their own than a typical strip mall.

Another factor involves the operating hours of a mall and whether it's associated with restaurants that have liquor licenses.

"Alcohol and later hours can generate a problem," Dillon said.

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