To improve public safety, Mayor Paul Soglin is proposing that all convenience stores in the city have quality security cameras covering multiple areas and that records be kept for at least 30 days.

The Police Department began discussing such an ordinance amid rising incidents of gunfire and homicides earlier this year and supports the proposal, Chief Mike Koval said.

“It will enhance public safety, it will save lives and it will make it easier to apprehend criminals in areas we’ve identified as hot spots,” Soglin said.

Jeff Lenard, vice president for strategic industry initiatives at the National Association of Convenience Stores, was cool to the proposal, saying that security cameras are not at the top of the list of validated security measures.

“Generally, these types of ordinances are well meaning but may not best achieve the desired outcome,” he said, explaining that the top two practices are reducing signage in windows that block a clear view, as well as effective lighting; and minimizing cash on hand by using a time-release drop safe.

The proposed ordinance, to be introduced to the City Council on Tuesday, would require high-resolution cameras that can create reproducable images, including images that can identify people, with a date and time stamp on each image.

The cameras, which must have an image quality of at least 50 pixels per foot, would have to provide an overview of each counter and register area, an image of an individual’s face as they enter or exit the store, and areas surrounding all gas pumps. Stores must also have sufficient lighting so the cameras can produce clear images.

Also, all digital video records must be stored and maintained in good viewing order for 30 days. When requested by the city, the store owner must ensure the video is properly kept until retrieved by the city. The owner must also ensure adequate staff is trained in retrieving and providing the videos.

Further, all stores must conspicuously post a sign a minimum two inches tall at all entrances and exits with the minimum language: “Video recording equipment in use. You may be recorded.”

The proposal will be considered by committees and decided by the council at a later date. The ordinance would go into effect six months after passage.

Council President Marsha Rummel said she hasn’t heard from colleagues about support or opposition, but said that video cameras at convenience stores have been helpful in the past.

Law enforcement is increasingly relying on forensics and technology to investigate and solve crimes, and the proposed ordinance would create uniformity both as a deterrent and the capacity to record criminal activity and gather evidence at ever-popular convenience stores, Koval said.

Many stores already have cameras, but it’s unclear how many meet the specific criteria in the proposed ordinance, Koval said, adding that he’s unsure about potential costs.

“We’re doing good now, but we want to go from good to better to best practices,” he said.

Under the ordinance, violators would face a court deposit of $200 for a first offense, $500 for a second offense and $750 for third and subsequent offenses. Each day a violation exits would be considered a separate offense.

“We don’t want to play gotcha police” with store owners, Koval said. “We want them to understand as part of a bottom line this is a reasonable cost. It will help people’s perception it’s safe.”

Lenard said, “These ordinances are relatively uncommon and that’s because a one-size-fits-all approach may not be the best approach. ... (But) no one wants to be the target of crime. It is bad for business in attracting customers and in attracting employees. I hope the mayor will be reaching out to stores to determine the best course of action to accomplish our common goals.


Dean Mosiman covers Madison city government for the Wisconsin State Journal.