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If you're walking downtown and find you need to adjust your undies, wait until you're well past the Historic Arkansas Museum.
Three dozen or so cameras — very powerful, versatile cameras — keep watch over the museum's grounds, which stretch from Markham to Fourth Street between Cumberland and Scott. They also observe the Block 2 shops and parking lot. And the lot at Second and Scott. And the main CAT bus station. And the on-ramp to Interstate 30. Even the Main Street Bridge. When Bill Clinton is staying at his apartment atop the Clinton Library, even the Secret Service finds the system useful.
Inside, the museum's chief of public safety, Gunter Lindermeier — he goes by Lindy — or another of the security staff monitor the cameras when the museum is open, panning and zooming around the neighborhood. They talk by HAM (no pun intended) radio with a parking lot attendant in a booth between the Heritage East and Heritage West buildings on Markham, letting each other know if they see a suspicious person peering into car windows or generally looking troublesome.
The result, Lindermeier said, is that the crime that's drawn attention lately in the River Market district next door hasn't affected the area adjacent to the museum grounds.
“Word got out that ‘They can see us everywhere' — that's a quote,” Lindermeier said.
Even when no one's actually monitoring the cameras, they're all recording what they see.
“This is a little island here — it's very safe,” Lindermeier said. “In the course of protecting the museum, we see a lot of things that may need attention because of the pan-and-zoom cameras.”
They've recorded homeless people robbing other homeless people, and burglars breaking into cars. Last fall, Lindermeier even helped catch a man who stole a bottle of vodka from River Market Wine and Spirits in the Block 2 complex.
“A suspicious-looking gentleman went into the liquor store and came out running,” Lindermeier said. The museum security staff saw it on their cameras, and watched as the “gentleman” headed their direction. “He came through our back area, and I caught him on Third Street.”
The cameras have captured drug dealers using an out-of-the-way spot on the museum grounds as a drug drop. That stopped when their packages began to disappear, Lindermeier said.
Protecting the museum's grounds, buildings, artifacts and personnel is the priority, but keeping an eye on nearby businesses as well “is in our best interest,” he said.
The security system was part of a major renovation completed in 2001, museum Director Bill Worthen said. The museum needed such an elaborate camera set-up (cost of equipment and installation was about $125,000) because its major assets — historic buildings — are open to the outside rather than protected behind locked doors.
“Our security would be a lot easier just in one structure,” he said.
In the past, museum staff have found used needles and other drug paraphernalia on the museum grounds. The cameras have recorded vandals spray-painting. And yes, Worthen said, they've also occasionally taken note of a scofflaw dog owner neglecting to pick up after their pooch in the museum's green space at Second and Main.
“Actually, folks are doing a little bit better about picking up after their dogs, but there are still a few who think it's not an open space but a dog space. We have documented some of those people, some of those dogs.”
So what about regular law-abiding folks surreptitiously scratching an unflattering body part, unaware there's a security guard sitting behind a bank of monitors trying not to laugh?
Rest assured, Lindermeier won't rat you out. We asked for embarrassing stories, but he wouldn't give them up.
“We don't use our system to pry into people's lives,” he said. “But if it's someone suspicious, we're going to keep an eye on them.”
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