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Debate: Crime cameras

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Are crime cameras a good idea for cities around the world? In New Orleans?

Background and context

Crime cameras are a relatively new development in crime fighting.
With the technology behind cameras and information networks advancing dramatically in recent decades, the availability and affordability of crime cameras has increased.
Cities around the world with high crime rates have, as a result, begun to test and implement crime camera programs designed to detect, prevent, and investigate crime. New Orleans, for instance - with escalating crime rates following Hurricane Katrina - has become a particularly high profile test case in the United States. This has occurred at the same time as - and sometimes as a result of - terrorism-related video surveillance programs springing up after September 11th, 2001 in cities such as London, New York, and Washington, DC.

With the growth of crime camera programs around the world, the debate over whether they are indeed a good idea has grown as well. The debate revolves around a number of important questions: Are crime camera programs effective at helping predict criminal behavior, enabling effective crime response, deterring crime, and/or prosecuting crimes? Do crime cameras have an important social impact on the public sense of safety? Or, do citizens resent them as an eye-sore? Are crime cameras cost-effective or should police resources be spent elsewhere? Are crime cameras too expensive to maintain? Do crime cameras violate the privacy and civil liberties of citizens? Overall, do the pros outweigh the cons, suggesting that crime cameras are good public policy?

Contents

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Crime fighting: Are crime cameras helpful in fighting crime?

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Pro

  • Inexpensive camera viewing services are avaialable There are professional services which provide very inexpensive camera viewing over the internet. This is a serious option for people who cannot view their own cameras 24x7 but still would like the service. check out Virtual Video Guard
  • Crime cameras help reduce crime rates, "Cameras have cut violence, study says". The Washington Post. February 21, 2008 - "The report, prepared for the D.C. Council by the office of Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, says violent crime increased about 1 percent citywide last year. But, it says, violent crime decreased 19 percent within 250 feet of each of the cameras, which the city began installing in August 2006. Property crimes increased 5 percent overall last year but 2 percent in the camera areas, the report says. 'In the seventeen months since cameras were first installed in D.C.'s neighborhoods, the cameras have continued to have a positive impact on public safety in the city,' the report says."
  • Hi-tech crime cameras help predict and prevent criminal acts James Slack. "Caught Before the Act". Daily Mail. November 28, 2008 - "CCTV cameras which can 'predict' if a crime is about to take place are being introduced on Britain's streets. The cameras can alert operators to suspicious behaviour, such as loitering and unusually slow walking. Anyone spotted could then have to explain their behaviour to a police officer."
  • FBI Reports on the effectivness and future of surveillance cameras."FBI on Human Identification and Recognition""This increase in numbers of cameras means that more and more criminals are being photographed in the commission of their crimes. As a result, these images are being used more and more often to link suspects to their crime.
  • Benefits of crime cameras may not be reflected in crime rates. John Firman, the director of research at the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said a 2007 ABC article: "We know cameras enhance that capacity but saying for sure that they reduced crime by 20 percent, that's another thing. Anecdotally, we know that they have had an impact."[1]


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Con

  • CCTV failing to cut crime - Huge investments in CCTV in the UK are failing to cut crime, with only 3% of London's street robberies being solved using the footage.
Own Bowcott. "CCTV boom has failed to slash crime, say police". Guardian. May 6, 2008 - Massive investment in CCTV cameras to prevent crime in the UK has failed to have a significant impact, despite billions of pounds spent on the new technology, a senior police officer piloting a new database has warned. Only 3% of street robberies in London were solved using CCTV images, despite the fact that Britain has more security cameras than any other country in Europe.
  • Crime cameras may help prosecutions, but don't reduce crime. Jim Harper, the director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute, was quoted saying in a July 2007 ABC article: "They are good forensic tools — after something happens, they'll tell you what happened. [...] But they do not provide protection against attacks, and that's a key distinction."[2]


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Deterrence: Do crime cameras help deter crime?

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Pro


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Con

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Shifting crime: Do crime cameras merely shift crime?

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Pro

  • Even shifting crime with cameras can benefit communities. San Francisco Mayor said to the San Francisco Chronicle in 2008, "When I put the first cameras in, I said, 'This may only move people around the corner. But the community there said, 'We don't care, we want our alleyway back.' No one's actually had a camera up that they wanted torn down in the community."[3]
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Con


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Sense of safety: Do cameras create a sense of safety?

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Pro

  • Crime cameras help restore a public sense of safety In December, 2008, an armed robbery attempt in New Orleans failed after the victim, according to police, "...advised the suspect that there were several surveillance cameras in the area," and walked safely away from the criminal.[4] The episode suggests that the victim felt that the cameras provided a critical layer of protection against the assailant. While law enforcers did not suggest that others pursue the same course of action as the victim in this story, it is clear that the crime cameras provided a real sense of safety for this man and probably for other members of his community as well.


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Con


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Prosecution: Are crime cameras helpful in prosecuting crimes?

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Pro

  • Crime cameras offer conclusive, unbiased evidence in court. New Orleans Mayor Nagin said in 2005 when unveiling his crime camera program: "These cameras not only record crime, they are witnesses that cannot be intimidated."[6] Indeed, when crime cameras capture a crime, they expose the reality of those involved and the details of their actions. They reveal the truth, upon which justice relies. This stands in stark contrast with less detailed testimonies and heresy, making cameras particularly valuable to the justice system.


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Con


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Broken cameras: Are broken crime cameras a significant problem?

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Pro

  • Damaged crime cameras can be fixed. Crime cameras that are not working can be fixed. And, if a line of cameras does not work consistently, they can be replaced with a different camera from a different company. In general, difficulties with specific cameras can be fixed, and should not go against the general merits of crime cameras.
  • Even broken cameras can offer a deterrent effect on crime. Some communities actually use "dummy cameras" (props that look like real cameras to criminals) mixed in with operating cameras to deter criminal activities. The important thing is that criminals think that they are being watched by a camera. Broken cameras can, therefore, still have a valuable deterrent effect on crime.
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Con

Jeff Crouere. "New Orleans: Candid Crime Cameras" - "The city council is rightly questioning whether these cameras should continue to be funded in the budget. If they cannot be fixed, what use are they? Just the other day a 22-year old New Orleans man, Kendrick Thomas, was killed near the corner of St. Roch Avenue and North Villere Street. [...] The intersection is in a high crime area, so the NOPD installed a crime camera. Unfortunately, it was not working at the time the crime was committed. If these cameras don't work, what use are they? Throughout New Orleans, broken crime cameras are not helping police solve crimes and are of no help in bringing down this high crime rate."
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Civil liberties: Are crime cameras consistent with civil liberties?

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Pro

  • Crime camera privacy, Big Brother concerns are exaggerated When new crime cameras are being considered and installed in a city, it is typical that the media, civil rights groups, and skeptical citizens exaggerate the claims regarding the implications for privacy, civil liberties, and for the role of Big Brother. Years after the successful implementation of cameras, and with no privacy incidence or abuses, these initial protests appear for what they are - exaggerations and fear mongering.
  • Crime cameras violate privacy no more than corner store cameras. Ken Garcia. "Debate over crime cameras brings out the clueless in S.F.". The Examiner. January 20, 2007 - "The people who complain about the use of cameras on the street say nothing about their presence in their corner store, the post office, the subway, Macy’s, Safeway or just about every commercial enterprise in existence. They’re now found in taxis, buses, trains and of course, airports, let alone public buildings, such as the one that played back the proceedings at the Police Commission for a cable TV audience."
  • If a person has nothing to hide, then there is no issue. Cameras are there to protect the public. They are not in place to spy on people and have no interest in the personal lives of those on camera. The only interest is in the people breaking the law. If a person has nothing to hide then they should have no problem being filmed, they should be thankful that the authorities are trying to protec them and their peers.
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Con

  • Crime cameras are an intrusion on individual privacy rights Former Oakland Mayor (now California Attorney General) Jerry Brown said in 1999 when the City of Oakland rejected proposed video surveillance cameras: "Reducing crime is something the community and police must work on together. Installing a few or a few dozen surveillance cameras will not make us safe. It should also not be forgotten that the intrusive powers of the state are growing with each passing decade."[8]
  • Crime cameras with ID technology deeply violate privacy "Under the Watchful Eye". American Civil Liberties Union - "Threat to Civil Liberties from Combined Technologies Government-run video surveillance can radically alter the relationship between law enforcement and the public. By itself, pervasive video surveillance threatens privacy rights. But even more disturbing, the threat multiplies when government combines cameras with emerging technologies such as automated identification software, face and eye scans, radio frequency identification (RF ID) tags, and databases accessible to law enforcement. In that context, video surveillance provides a critical pillar of a surveillance infrastructure. It creates the potential for the government to monitor people in public space, in a way envisioned only in futuristic novels."
  • Crime cameras lead to slippery slope of Big Brother surveillance. Crime cameras are only the beginning of a host of violations of civil liberties on the part of government. While the objectives of surveillance may be modest in the beginning, they are likely to include in the future certain video ID schemes that track every individual's movements and actions at all times in search of suspicious or subversive behavior. The risks are real of crime cameras leading to the police state scenarios depicted in George Orwell's 1984.
  • Police abuse crime cameras, leering at women. Surveillance cameras are often used by police to leer at women, instead of to fight crime. This unfortunate abuse is common, crude and undignified, and a distraction for police from their real duties.
  • Crime cameras place security over civil liberties. While security interests are important, security cameras wrongly place them over civil liberties. Constitutional principles surrounding civil liberties exist for a reason, and are meant to be immutable. Expediencies such as increased security should not be allowed to bend or break these important moral principles and lines.


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Costs: Are crime cameras cost-effective?

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Pro

  • Crime cameras help reduce frequency of community patrols. Police typically patrol neighborhoods with a certain frequency. It is possible for police to reduce the frequency of their patrolling in neighborhoods with crime cameras. This is due largely to the fact that crime cameras help deter and reduce crime, reducing the demand for police patrolling in a certain neighborhood. In addition, newer crime cameras can help detect criminal activity and alert officers to attend to suspicious activities. This is why cameras are often viewed as "extra crime-fighting eyes". By helping reduce the need to patrol certain areas, crime cameras can help reduce the costs required to support such police patrolling.
  • Crime cameras are cost-effective only when used properly Benjamin Wachs. "Crime cameras work, but SF doesn't work the cameras". SF Weekly. June 27, 2008 - "Even by the standard of San Francisco’s pretty lousy records, SF’s crime cameras have a pretty lousy record. As SF Weekly has previously reported, they’ve cost nearly $1 million, led to only 1 arrest, and have provided police with virtually no useful information [...] But here’s the funny thing … by which I mean sad: other municipalities have had crime camera programs that work. We’ve previously reported about the success of Washington D.C.’s crime cameras, which reduced crime by 19 percent in areas covered by cameras and helped catch suspects.[...] How do they do it? [...] Simple: Like D.C., Rochester actually has real people watching the cameras. SF … for some reason … doesn’t." [the issue, therefore, is not whether crime cameras are good or bad, but how to best build a strong crime camera program with practices that ensure crime cameras are being used effectively.
Rafael Goyeneche, head of the Metropolitan Crime Commission. - "I think maybe bring the police chief and district attorney to a hearing with the City Council and make sure they are doing everything in their capacity as police chief and DA to utilize the crime cameras."[9]


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Con

"Paying for failure: New Orleans' crime cameras broken as killings take place." Times-Picayune. November 20, 2008 - "There’s little to show for the $7 million taxpayers have plunged down this rabbit hole."
  • Crime cameras often have no one watching due to limited resources. "Shambles over crime cameras". Western Daily Press. November 28, 2008 - "Crime in Cirencester town centre is going unmonitored because there is no one to watch the CCTV full-time. Cotswold District Council has failed to replace the contract to monitor the cameras in the town. Police community support officers have had to be drafted in to fill the breach on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. But at all other times the cameras have been on automatic, with police reviewing tapes after an incident."


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Pro/con sources:

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See also

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