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Spenard clean-up adds cameras

By Matthew F. Smith 4:55 PM September 1, 2013

Community council installs camera systems on local businesses to combat chronic drunkenness and other crime

ANCHORAGE – It’s a unique neighborhood with a colorful past. The Spenard Community Council has been working to improve its slice of Midtown for years, and now it’s installing cameras on local businesses in an effort to curb chronic drunkenness and other street crime in the area.

Just a decade ago, “there were ladies of the night and drug dealers and stuff all over,” recalled John Weddleton. A member of the Spenard Chamber of Commerce, and the owner of Bosco’s Comics, he said he and other business owners have been working hard to make Spenard a place where people want to visit. “The businesses and the community kind of got together, and that’s really been gone …  for almost ten years.”

Despite efforts to clean up Spenard, it’s far from spotless. And the community council thinks installing cameras will curb one of their biggest problems.

“We’ve had a problem with In & Out Liquors selling, or possibly selling, liquor to street inebriates, and being a magnet for [them],” said Tom McGrath with the council. “So we decided to put cameras up at Tommy’s Burger Stop and Blaine’s [Art Supply] to keep an eye out …  if there’s any problems in the area the police can check the footage.”

The council spent about $6,000 of grant money on the cameras. They’re always watching, capable of keeping up to a month’s worth of footage on file. No one is actively watching what the cameras record, McGrath said. Just who will have access to the footage will be determined at the next council meeting on Wednesday, September 4.

But the footage is there, if and when something happens.

“We’re trying to catch people who are doing drug deals, people who are inebriated and stumbling through the intersections … just causing problems in the area,” Rene Haag, the owner of Blaine’s, said Friday. After decades of problems, she said something had to be done. She welcomed the four cameras the council installed on her property with open arms.

“They’re defecating on my property,” she said, exasperated. “My staff is having to clean that up. It’s pretty disgusting,” she added. “It’s been going on for a long time. You feel bad for people in that situation, but at the same time, you know, a little tough love maybe might fix some things.”

McGrath said the community council said it doesn’t want to keep people, or businesses, out of Spenard. But they do want change, and they think the cameras are a first step.

”I’ve been told by the city we have the heaviest pedestrian traffic of anywhere in town,” McGrath said. “So I think we’re as inclusive a neighborhood as can possibly be. We’re not saying don’t come here, we’re saying, there’s room for other people too.”

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