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Bill would improve security at gas stations, convenience stores

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Photo by Tauren Dyson. County Councilman Obie Patterson says the bill will be difficult to enforce.

Photo by Tauren Dyson. County Councilman Obie Patterson says the bill will be difficult to enforce.

Published on: Tuesday, July 02, 2013

By Tauren Dyson

A Prince George’s County Council measure that calls for late night businesses and gas stations to improve security accommodations was the subject of a heated debate last Thursday.

The bill, CB 52, would require all gas stations and convenient stores that stay open between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. and measure less than 15,000 square feet to install “a surveillance camera system with a minimum of two highly visible digital, high-resolution color cameras,” stated a council draft of the bill.

Other components of the legislation include training store employees on how to handle robbery situations. Also, between 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. stores are required to limit the amount of cash in their registers to $75. Gas stations would only provide window access to customers. Additionally, a drop box safe must be placed behind the register, and the window looking into the store should not be obstructed by objects inside the store.

Bill sponsor Councilman Eric Olson, District 3, and other CB 52 proponents said these changes would help curb late night crime in Prince George’s County and help spur economic growth.

“We have a great deal of robberies happening in these establishments overnight,” Olson said. “We need to get a better handle on those problems, the theft and our crime numbers.”

Councilman Mel Franklin, District 9, agreed.

“We have a county that is vast in its size. It’s really impossible for the police department, from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., to be at all these locations in the middle of the night,” he said. “That discourages other economic development from coming to the county.”

But, opponents don’t see the bill as a clear-cut strategy to curbing crime. Some said the bill would unfairly hamper small businesses owners that cannot afford these surveillance upgrades.

“Service stations were only 6 percent of the commercial robberies in the county in the last two years,” said Kirk McCauley, WMDA Service Station Association director of member relations. “It’s $4,000 to $8,000 to put a digital camera system in your shop. That’s a lot of money to spend.”

Prince George’s County had 606 commercial robberies total in 2011 and 2012, and only 41 robberies, or 6.7 percent, were at gas stations, McCauley said.

Councilman Obie Patterson, District 8, said the bill would be difficult to enforce.

“This is a major shift in policy and change for convenient stores, but who’s going to train them?” Patterson said. “Are we going to pass this and nothing happens? Who’s going to enforce this?”

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