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Indecent exposure resurrects Gazebo camera debate

28 April 2016 News

FRONT ROYAL, Va. – The mid-April arrest of a local man believed to have exposed himself on successive weekend afternoons near the Front Royal Gazebo has resurrected debate over removal of security cameras there.

At a Monday night (April 25) meeting, two citizens (downtown businessman Keith Menefee and former Councilman Tom Sayre) urged Town Council to reconsider a 4-2 December vote to remove cameras placed several years earlier to deter a rash of criminal behavior at the center of Front Royal’s Historic Downtown Business District. However, a third citizen (Chris German) questioned whether restoring the cameras would achieve the desired security the other two speakers are seeking.

Despite Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger’s re-statement of her belief that it is NOT the role of government to protect citizens from “BAD THINGS HAPPENING” as she phrased it Monday, with both Mayor Tim Darr and Councilman and former Mayor Gene Tewalt disagreeing, a revisiting of the camera removal was slated for a coming Council Work Session.

Christopher J. Skube, 58, was arrested on Sunday, April 17th on felony Indecent Exposure and Public Intoxication charges. According to Front Royal Police, Skube, who lives nearby on East Main Street, is on the Virginia State Police Sex Offender Registry for two prior offenses of indecent exposure.

The fact that police were unable to locate a suspect in the area following the first incident reported on Saturday, was pointed to by pro-camera speakers Monday night as an indication the cameras’ presence could have prevented the second incident from occurring.

The December Council debate pitted two, first-term members on opposing sides. If the 27-year-old Egger saw the matter as an issue of civil liberties versus intrusion of the state in the name of security; 28-year-old John Connolly countered that with a history of petty criminal behavior in the area, including vandalism of public property, the cameras helped protect citizens’ investment of tax revenues. However, Connolly wondered if additional police patrols and curfews might better serve the public desire for security in the Town’s central public gathering place.

Addressing the issue of personal liberty in a public place on Monday, Menefee, owner of a nearby Main Street bakery, asked, “How many liberties are we going to allow THESE people to take BEFORE people are TOO afraid to come downtown?”

Noting he had two daughters of an age that would be “Prime Pickings” for sexual predators, Sayre warned “this is SERIOUS business … Unfortunately we live in a society where security cameras are necessary.”

However, German pointed to past failures of security cameras to deter terrorist acts in two major cities – Boston and London. He wondered whether cameras wouldn’t be better place on school playgrounds, where hardcore sexual predators were likely to seek victims.

Responding to the pro-camera comments, Egger said she understood the concerns – “We live in a fear-driven society. This was an unfortunate incident … but it could happen anywhere in town.”

Egger added that while she wasn’t a fan of President Obama, she did agree with his observation, “We shouldn’t play ‘Wack-a-Mole’ with terrorists” – “We shouldn’t play Wack-a-Mole with crime either,” she reasoned.

In December, only council’s two senior members, former Mayor and Public Works Director Gene Tewalt and Vice-Mayor Hollis Tharpe voted against removal of surveillance cameras. Mayor Darr did not vote on the matter in December. The mayor only votes to break ties.

 Submitted by Roger Bianchini

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