Is Public Video Surveillance a Good Idea?

Resource Government
June 18, 2012 — 1,025 views  
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Many cities and towns have considered implementing public video surveillance in their communities. However, some see it as a double-edged sword - while it might help lower crime rates, it frequently raises privacy issues.

While using such surveillance might sound like a good idea, evaluating the pros and cons can help you determine if it is viable for your municipality.

Video surveillance helps deter crime

The Constitution Project notes that Chicago, Washington, D.C. and other major metros are using video surveillance to enhance their law enforcement. This tool recently has been used to help eliminate terrorism threats, and might reduce public safety risks.

Placing video cameras throughout a community could also keep criminals off the streets. Should a resident be victimized, video surveillance provides images that can help local authorities capture this assailant.

Cameras could be used in multiple areas, as town or city officials could place them atop buildings, traffic lights and other hard-to-reach spots. They could help limit present criminal activity, and may significantly lower future crime rates.

Video surveillance presents privacy issues

Some claim that video monitoring violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the United States Constitution. These arguments posit that it's a violation of a person's privacy to place video cameras throughout a city or town, as government officials can track their every move.

Additionally, video surveillance might not have a substantial impact on a municipality's crime rates. Criminal activity is often the result of multiple variables, and it can be difficult to determine whether video cameras will effectively prevent a crime from occurring.

In fact, data is available to support these claims. Government Technology reports that The Urban Institute found Baltimore, Chicago and Washington, D.C. have spent millions of dollars to install public video surveillance. However, these metros saw limited returns on their investments. 

"Cities and neighborhoods that saw no change in crime may not be actively monitoring their cameras or may have had too few render the system a useful crime prevention and investigation tool," the study states, according to the news source.

Review the pros and cons with residents to help decide if video surveillance is a good choice for your city or town.

Resource Government