Saturday, September 22, 2007

Cameras on the Mall

The evidence is in (hat tip to, and it's becoming clearer and clearer that public surveillance systems, while often promoted by people with the best of intentions, are

1) incredibly costly
2) not very good at preventing crime

while they generate

3) widespread concern about the further erosion (either real or perceived) of our civil liberties.

For these reasons, after prolonged reflection, I have decided that I cannot support our Police Department's request for a comprehensive, centralized camera system for downtown Charlottesville. If we are going to spend $300,000 to improve public safety in downtown, I'd rather see those funds allocated for

1) improved lighting in darker areas around the Mall
2) increased police patrols on and around the Mall, especially during the summer months

and I would support

3) expanding the existing Police Department program whereby portable cameras are set up on a temporary basis (with the cooperation of nearby property owners) to monitor areas where actual criminal activity is suspected or has taken place, for investigative purposes. If there is a series of random assaults on streets south of the Mall, then yes let's install some cameras there to try and ID the suspects.

I also am concerned about setting a precedent here. If we set up a centralized surveillance system for downtown, how can we then turn around and tell other City neighborhoods that they can't have one as well? Pretty soon, we could find ourselves doing exactly what London has done -- blanket the entire City with cameras, monitored on a real-time basis, at very high cost, because it helps people feel safe without actually making them so. Seems like a real slippery slope to me.

If downtown merchants and residents want to take the initiative to establish a comprehensive, centralized camera system of their own (or at least add to the patchwork quilt of privately-operated surveillance cameras that's already in place today), they certainly have that right; I would not even be opposed to re-examining the Downtown Service District idea as a tool for helping them to generate the necessary funds. But I think we as a City need to proceed cautiously and avoid the temptation to invest a lot of money in an easy fix that's not really much of a fix.


The Road Runner said...

Dave, you have got to stop making so much sense. People will stop calling you socialist and start hating you for being right all the time. This is definitely hurting your "liberal" image.

I mean, really! Increasing police presence instead of wasting money on useless surveillance that nobody really wants and doesn't prevent crime anyway... What kind of liberal are you, anyway?

I'm almost disappointed. Next time I visit C-ville I'll feel even safer. So much for outlaw-biker appeal.

I'll bet you even ride your scooter for fun, too!

Nick said...

Dave, I really appreciate you taking a stand on this issue. I work downtown and I don't like the idea of living life on camera.