Are They Effective

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2006-04-03 Print this article Print

?"> Do cameras just move the crime elsewhere? If they do, then so do increased police patrols, which are usually temporary. In one sense the question is beside the point; if crime in the area of the cameras is decreased, then their goals have been met at least to some degree.
And if there is more crime elsewhere, then maybe that area needs cameras, too. Its not like youll need them everywhere.

Is it bad that the police can keep archived video? There are certainly arguments why it can be good. It can be useful for things as innocent as traffic studies. And heres something to consider: If you were accused of a crime and could have either a video record in evidence against you or the testimony of a witness, which would you choose? I bet it mostly depends on whether youre guilty.

This raises the question of the integrity of the video itself. Is it possible to manipulate it? Anyone who has seen Forrest Gump knows that its possible to modify video. Im willing to bet its possible to create a system to demonstrate integrity. As far as Im concerned, if the cameras are of public places, then the same images the police see should go out to whoever wants them through the Internet. Then third parties can maintain their own archives in order to test the police version. Storage is cheap.

Camera opponents have also told me stories of police abusing information they get from camera surveillance, like looking for pretty women and looking up their license plates. This would be abusive, of course, just as it would be abusive for the police to capriciously look up a license plate observed with their own eyes.

Like any police tool (how about guns for an example?) cameras can be abused, and there need to be administrative rules and laws to make sure police use them correctly. But the correct use of them is no more abusive than normal police work.

I think the fact that cameras are machines rubs many people the wrong way and they react in a way that is visceral and irrational. Im reminded of Anthony Quinns character in Lawrence of Arabia, who destroys a camera used to take his picture because he fears that his soul has been captured. Most of the arguments I hear from camera opponents make no more sense than this.

Law and order wont bring East Orange back to its glory days, which were actually more glorious than the Reuters article let on. Like the cop on every corner that the city cant afford, it can deter and punish crime and let decent law-abiding people live their lives, free to enjoy the privacy of their homes and the safety of the streets. This may be a dystopia to some people, but I bet the citizens of East Orange would prefer it to lawlessness.

Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. He can be reached at Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog.

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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