NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A 10 On Your Side Investigation shed light on a serious safety issue in the City of Norfolk.
We discovered surveillance cameras in parking garages not only don’t work, but they haven’t worked for over a year.
Then a horrible tragedy proved just how important surveillance cameras can be.
This investigation began with a paraplegic’s car stolen from a parking garage back in February. He says the City of Norfolk led him to believe he was parking in a protected place with surveillance cameras that worked.
“Now they are opening their eyes to say ‘hey, there really is a problem,’“ says Newport News resident Jack Rowsey.
“February 11, definitely one of the worst days of my life,” Rowsey said.
That’s when the paraplegic’s specially-fitted car was stolen from the Norfolk-owned Boush Street parking garage. Rowsey had inadvertently left his key fob in a backpack,
“When you are disabled there’s a lot going on when you are trying to get out of a car…we thought we were in the safest place in the garage, the most lit, had a camera right above the car, and right next to the elevator.”
Rowsey wrongly thought the camera above the car would at least capture the thief, but our investigation found the camera wasn’t working, and hadn’t worked for months.
“Well, it is disappointing of course,” says Virginia Beach resident Maurice Jenkins, whose daughter Sierra Jenkins was killed in a quintuple shooting on Granby Street in March. He watched the report on Rowsey’s stolen car.
“In the event that something bad happens, this is a tool the police department needs to do their job and hold people accountable.”
10 On Your Side’s investigation uncovered 8 of Norfolk’s 12 parking garages have no working surveillance cameras, even though signs falsely claim, “garages monitored by surveillance cameras.”
Following our inquiries, the signs were covered up.
In March, we confronted Norfolk’s Director of Parking, Ray Stoner, who acknowledged 10 On Your Side’s reporting.
“The timing of the story, a review of what cameras are not working, that was part of the reason we covered the signs,” Stoner said.
The non-working surveillance cameras were also covered with plastic bags.
10 On Your Side asked Stoner whether he was troubled that so many parking garage cameras are down.
“It’s definitely a focus of ours to get as much money as we can to get them up and running,” he said.
If surveillance cameras weren’t a priority, that would soon change.
On March 19, a tragedy would take place right out in front of Chicho’s Backstage Pizza. Police say a man shot and killed three people, including Jenkins, a Virginian-Pilot reporter. Once again, there was no surveillance video because there were no surveillance cameras.
“It put the city in a position they knew they had to do something,” Maurice Jenkins said. “When something big happens and people are standing up, voicing their concerns, and showing their disappointment about something, you are forced to make a change.”
That appears to be true because change came swiftly, mobile cameras were put up on Granby Street, and one camera was positioned across the street from the shooting scene.
“The goal here is to have all garages outfitted with brand new security technology by the end of the calendar year,” said Norfolk City Manager Chip Filer, talking about a new budget priority.
Deputy City Manager Catheryn Whitesell said “we are going to put up 250 cameras over 12 different garages. The installation starts in mid-June and is completed by end of December.”
The cameras won’t be monitored, but images will be recorded.
A city budget item of $770,000 will be set aside for garage surveillance systems.
As for mobile cameras on Granby Street, the city’s renting six of them for $45,662 every six months.
This does show a shift in financial priorities for public safety, and Jenkins gives a shout out to the city.
“I give anybody credit for making that effort. The cameras are an effort on their behalf to make a change, so yes, I do give them credit, and I appreciate what they have done.”
Rowsey adds, “It’s a shame someone had to lose her life to shine a brighter light on a bigger problem … I’m proud our story is helping cause positive changes.”