A new grant program, for security cameras outside downtown Erie businesses officially launched today. The Erie Downtown Partnership was joined by Erie's mayor, police chief, and business leaders for the announcement.

Starting today, members of Erie Downtown, who are up to date on their dues, can apply for grant money to help pay for digital security camera systems.  Businesses approved must agree to turn security camera footage over to police if it can help solve a crime.

Already about a dozen businesses and non-profits are interested in applying for a grant and partnering to keep downtown safer.  The Erie Playhouse is one example. "The patrons come from blocks away, they have to feel safe, " said Playhouse Executive Director Almi Clerkin.  "There's a perception that's it's not as safe as it truly is but if this will help people feel even more safe downtown, I think it's our responsibility to jump in and apply for one."

Erie Police Chief Randy Bowers says security camera video has already helped his department solve many crimes from retail thefts to shootings or homicide.  He says having the grant recipients agree to turn over video will make the investigation process easier for police, and enlist downtown businesses as partners in deterring crime.  "It also shows that downtown businesses are entering into a partnership with public safety and that's the whole idea behind it," said Bowers.

The Erie Downtown Partnership set aside 10-thousand dollars a year, for the next three years, to kick off the program.  They will now seek additional funding from The Erie Community Foundation, the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority and private donors to expand the initiative. They will review applications and award grants in June.  The first systems should be installed by July.