The City of Boston installed surveillance cameras in some high-crime areas like Chinatown three years ago, and now they’re citing two murder cases in which those cameras played a key role to justify the installation of even more cameras.
The department has 25 cameras, each costing about $20,000, that can pan, tilt, and zoom, and can be attached to a wall or roof in less than an hour. Regulations require approval from property owners before police can mount the cameras. The department purchased the devices in 2004, and they were first used at the Democratic National Convention.
But in point of fact, it isn’t efficacy that’s driving the camera surveillance boom in police work. It’s conservatives and their demands for low-taxes.
Chris Ott, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union, questioned the emphasis on fancy gizmos to replace old-fashioned police work.
“For whatever reason, there is a tendency to look at technical solutions to nontechnical problems,” Ott said. “We’d encourage people to ask questions about whether there are simpler methods, perhaps better lighting or more community policing.”
Dunford said that while community policing is a priority, the funds do not exist to put more police on the streets.
“The cameras are a force multiplier,” he said. “We try to put out as many walking beats as we can, and then enhance those units with the cameras.”
Simple as that. There’s no money, thanks to Prop 2 1/2 and the Big Dig, to add patrols even though everyone knows patrols are more effective than cameras.
Michael Wong, coordinator of Chinatown’s crime watch program, said how effective the cameras are remains a mystery to many area residents.
“After the police put them up, we haven’t heard anything from them. I don’t know if they have anybody to watch them,” he said. “The crime here has gone down a lot, but I don’t think it is because of the cameras. We’re walking the streets. If criminals see our crime watch, they go away.”
That’s bad enough, but buried inside the story is the news that Homeland Security also has a camera system installed in Boston, independent of the police system.
The department can also tap into other camera surveillance systems, including those provided by the Department of Homeland Security to monitor areas of the city that may be susceptible to terrorist attacks such as the harbor, parks, and evacuation routes.
This is an all-but-open admission by HS that it is allowing local police to access its surveillance equipment, equipment we were promised would be used only against “terrorists”. But like the rest of the Bush Administration’s promises, that one was a crock, too.
All of this in the name of saving money. Apparently we’re not only willing to trade our civil liberties for the illusion of “safety” and protection from imaginary hoards of Islamofascists, we’re prepared to sacrifice them for something as menial as lower taxes.
Maybe we deserve what we’re going to get.