Police focus on cameras to help fight crime

Two Lowcountry cities soon hope to use video-surveillance cameras to give police an edge over criminals. But with more than a million such cameras already in use in the United States, questions persist as to how effective they are in curbing crime. Charleston police want to use federal grant money to buy as many as 15 cameras to monitor public spaces for signs of trouble. North Charleston police plan to use a mobile surveillance camera to keep watch in high-crime areas. In doing so, they join New York, Chicago and a host of other cities making use of video technology.

A recent study from New York University, however, raised questions about the effectiveness of surveillance cameras as a crime-prevention tool. Researchers examined five years of crime data from two private housing complexes in Manhattan and found little evidence that surveillance cameras deterred much crime between 2002 and 2006. Four previous studies in the United States produced mixed results, the authors said. Three of the studies found little to suggest closed-circuit cameras helped reduce crime. But a fourth study, conducted in the high-crime town of East Orange, N.J., charted a 50 percent drop in crime between 2003 and 2006 while police used cameras with other tools, such as gunfire detection.

David F. Greenberg, a sociology professor who co-authored the New York University study, cautioned that more research is needed before a verdict can be rendered. But the findings should be food for thought for communities racing to place their streets under cameras' eyes, he said. "These things cost money to install, to keep going and to monitor," Greenberg said. "It makes sense to see if they are having the intended effect."

[...] Bill Brown co-founded the New York City-based Surveillance Camera Players, which has mapped and posted the locations of thousands of cameras across the country. Brown said studies here and in Europe show these cameras are ineffective and "a massive waste of money." People should be wary of the potential for racial profiling and of plans to consolidate private and public surveillance networks into Big Brother-like grids, he said [...]

(Written by Glenn Smith and published in The Post and Courier on Sunday, March 29, 2009.)

Contact the Surveillance Camera Players

By e-mail SCP@notbored.org