Chicago’s Mayor Richard M. Daley wants a surveillance camera on every street by 2016. He claims that his city’s technology is better than that of London and Chicago and will be able to prevent more crimes, but offers no proof. However, there is overwhelming evidence that surveillance cameras do little to deter crime.
A 2005 report from the United Kingdom states that surveillance cameras do little to prevent crime. A study funded by the British Home Office reported that the only place surveillance cameras deterred crime was in parking lots.
London is littered with video cameras. At any given moment, you are on at least one video camera when walking around town, with the average British citizen on 300 cameras per day. Yet, crime still occurs in London. Surveillance cameras have not made citizens feel any safer, nor has it succeeded in preventing crime. Many people today feel that the British government is relying on the cameras as the magic answer to crime even though similar past studies confirm the latest findings.
Jill Dando wasn’t any safer, despite being on camera. No one felt safe on July 7th in London. Despite their prevalence, these cameras can only help hunt for a criminal after the crime has been committed because they are passive devices that are unable to help you while you are being raped, mugged, or murdered.
There is also the slippery slope that, while the cameras today will be pointing on the street, in the future there will be a great temptation to turn those cameras inward to see what is happening inside people’s homes. It is human nature to be curious. Even though you have a reasonable expectation of privacy inside your home, how long will it be before the people monitoring the cameras are tempted to see what you are doing inside your home?
Instead of spending millions on cameras, the money should be invested in the police force. Beat cops walking the streets prevents crime. Time and again the physical presence of law enforcement helps to prevent crime.
Mrs. Smith is more likely to tell a police officer of the crime she witnessed if she sees the police walking her neighborhood every day. She will identify Billy as the man who beat Jenny and stole her purse. On the other hand, if there is a camera, Mrs. Smith will remain silent. Why get involved when the police can go back through the video tapes and try to figure it out for themselves? After all, Billy has now disguised himself, covering his face and hands while he commits crime. If Billy does a good job, you won’t even be able to tell if he’s a man or woman or what race he is. So, all you’re left with is a video of someone dressed in black beating Jenny and stealing her purse. Worse, cameras have blind spots. Criminals will take advantage of that. Mrs. Smith, however, will move around to see what’s happening. With the camera, you have eliminated most witnesses.
A police officer who walks the beat knows the people, good and bad, and actually serves the public good. Get the police out of their and them walk a beat. That will deter crime. However, with law enforcement’s insistence that we should push for more and more cameras, the end decision is most likely to be decided in the courts, after someone’s right to privacy has already been violated. Beat cops and community involvement remain the best way to deter crime. Hopefully, Mayor Daley will see that before he wastes millions of taxpayers dollars on crime prevention that doesn’t work.