London-style CCTV Coming to New York

CCTV 2.JPGDan’s post about CCTVs in London coincides with a report by CNN that if Manhattan can obtain $90 million in funding (not to mention $8 million a year for maintenance), the city will install its own “Ring of Steel” as the British call it. The plan is called the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative and the claim is that “The primary purpose of the system is deterrence, and then an investigative tool.”

Yet at least in London it appears that the cameras have helped track people after a crime has been committed while deterence is harder to show. Here are some choice quotes from the CNN article in which Steve Swain who worked with London’s system for four years talks about his experience with the London system:

“I don’t know of a single incident where CCTV has actually been used to spot, apprehend or detain offenders in the act, he said, referring to the London system. … Asked about their role in possibly stopping acts of terror, he said pointedly: “The presence of CCTV is irrelevant for those who want to sacrifice their lives to carry out a terrorist act.” … Swain does believe the cameras have great value in investigation work. He also said they are necessary to reassure the public that law enforcement is being aggressive. “You need to do this piece of theater so that if the terrorists are looking at you, they can see that you’ve got some measures in place,” he said.

In contrast the article also details the way that Washington D.C.; Atlanta, Georgia; Baltimore, Maryland; and Chicago, Illinois among other cities use private cameras mixed with public ones as part of law enforcement . In addition, some cities have seen a drop in crime which they attribute to the cameras.

In short, one way or the other cameras are here, and we are on them. So whiten those teeth, fix your hair, get an agent, and smile, because This Is Your Life is back, and you are the star.

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1 Response

  1. dc user says:

    The argument that CCTV fails to prevent crime/terrorism because the police can’t respond quickly enough has always struck me as incredibly facile — so facile, in fact, that I believe the opponents of CCTV are purposefully blinding themselves to the main way that CCTV prevents crime:

    1) CCTV helps identify both perpetrators and witnesses, and hence helps convict criminals after their crimes, even if it doesn’t help the police to intervene concurrently in a particular crime.

    2) Many criminals are repeat offenders.

    3) By taking the offender off the street (and into jail) before he repeats his crime, the CCTV lowers crime.

    Now let’s try the terrorism variant:

    1) CCTV helps to identify terrorists and trace their movements after their attacks. (Example: England’s use of 7/7 bombing footage)

    2) Terrorists frequently work in cells (or informally affiliate with other terrorists) to coordinate plans, supplies, financing, technology, document forgeries, and so forth. 3) Identifying the terrorists and their confederates (and tracing their movements) helps you to identify, investigate, arrest, and prosecute the other members of their cells. It helps you cut off financing and supplies.

    4) Even if particular suicide bombers can only do one attack, their affiliates and cells may be plannning other attacks — or would make new plans for new attacks in the future.

    5) Voila — CCTV can reduce future terrorism attacks.

    Now – none of this means that CCTV is ultimately worth it. We may well decide that these marginal improvements in our ability to prosecute crime/terrorism (and hence prevent future crimes/attacks) are not worth it given the privacy intrusions. But let’s have an honest debate.