Crime cameras waste money, invade privacy

Daniel Vasilchuk

How would you like to be watched by the city government while you wait for a bus or light rail?

Because of an April 2009 grant from the federal Department of Homeland Security, our government may soon be watching you on K Street and at local Regional Transit stations. The federal DHS has provided Sacramento with more than $600,000 to install 32 surveillance cameras and four mobile surveillance trailers. The Sacramento City Council voted on Sept. 29 to accept this funding. Where these cameras will be located has not been determined yet. Likely, the cameras will be placed on K Street and at RT stations, said Mayor Kevin Johnson at an April 20 press conference.

These locations and others will be justified by statistics on crime rates, in relation to where most crimes take place. While it is completely legal to videotape people in public areas, privacy is still a concern. Still, these cameras will be recording regular people who might never commit a crime in their life. The police are hoping to combat all types of crime through the use of these cameras. But the project’s success in that area is questionable. According to a study from the January 2009 Center for Informational Technology Research in the Interest of Society, surveillance cameras will not effectively stop violent crime from happening. Jennifer King is one of the authors of the CITRIS study, which took place in San Francisco. King said the study did not show promising results with combating violent crime, like homicides. “The cameras had some effect on property crime?within 100 feet of the cameras? (But) we found that they had no effect on violent crime at all,” King said. Konrad Von Schoech, spokesman for the Sacramento Police Department, said that these cameras will not be monitored constantly. Yes, what these cameras capture on tape recording can be seen at a later time. But, since the cameras will not always be monitored, police might not be able to prevent the crime from happening. Also, if cameras are posted on K Street, nearby areas will not see a decrease in crime. Criminals will simply move to areas where there are not any cameras around. And it may encourage racial profiling, which is prohibited by the California State Constitution.

Jim Updegraff, chairman of the American Civil Liberties Union Board of Directors in Sacramento, said that there might be racial profiling occurring in Sacramento.

“Putting surveillance cameras in the same neighborhoods where racial profiling may be happening would just be one more way that there would be profiling,” Updegraff said.

But what is racial profiling?

Say, for example, police officers reviewing camera footage spot a black male wearing baggy pants and a sweatshirt. The man just committed a crime. Police then arrest a suspect who is a black male matching this exact description.

But in reality, the suspect might be completely innocent.

The federal grant does have good intentions. But the implementation of the surveillance project in Sacramento will not reap great benefits. Increased video surveillance in Sacramento is not the answer to high crime rates. It will only invade the privacy of regular citizens and may lead to racial profiling.

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