Are Citywide Surveillance Cameras Effective?
Known for their blinking blue lights, the SkyCop cameras now blanket many of the city’s neighborhoods, gas stations, sidewalks and parks. The company that runs SkyCop, whose vice president of sales previously worked for the Memphis police, promotes it as a powerful crime deterrent that can help “neighborhoods take back their streets.” But after a decade in which Memphis taxpayers have paid $10 million to expand the surveillance system, crime in the city has gone up….
No agency tracks nationwide camera installation statistics, but major cities have invested heavily in such networks. Police in Washington, D.C., said they had deployed cameras at nearly 300 intersections by 2021, up from 48 in 2007. In Chicago, more than 30,000 cameras are viewable by police; in parts of New York City, the cameras watch every block. Yet researchers have found no substantive evidence that the cameras actually reduce crime….
In federal court, judges have debated whether round-the-clock police video recording could constitute an unreasonable search as prohibited by the Fourth Amendment. Though the cameras are installed in public areas, they also capture many corners of residential life, including people’s doors and windows. “Are we just going to put these cameras in front of everybody’s house and monitor them and see if anybody’s up to anything?” U.S. Circuit Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson said during oral arguments for one such case in 2021….
Dave Maass, a director at the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation who researches police surveillance technology, said these systems have expanded rapidly in the United States without real evidence that they have led to a drop in crime. “This often isn’t the community coming in and asking for it, it’s police going to conferences where … vendors are promising the world and that they’ll miraculously solve crimes,” Maass said. “But it’s just a commercial thing. It’s just business.”
Nonetheless, the Post notes that in Memphis many SkyCop cameras are even outfitted “with license-plate recognition software that records the time and location of every passing car.”
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