Friday, July 20, 2007

Cameras on the mall a topic for community discussion

Cameras are snapping us in so many settings, I find the idea of adding more cameras to the mall area a great topic for community discussion. Do cameras deter crime? Would better lighting be a superior solution for the cost? Wouldn't we need better lighting so the camera could actually provide usable images? Are there root causes of our apparent increase in crime that could be addressed more directly than installing cameras?

I don't pretend to have these answers, but crime is a community problem and I think a community discussion about what might be the best strategy for addressing crime is needed before a quick solution is implemented. Perhaps a discussion of what cameras can and cannot do, some identification of camera effectiveness and how our community can be sure using cameras will provide some - perhaps measurable - results. I think some police, city staff, citizen, and business community members could identify a range of possible actions that may or may not include adding cameras to our downtown area. The city has a variety of task forces in place like the strategic planning committee that could possibly serve as a core group to address crime as a strategic problem with added input from other stakeholders.

I had my camera with me on the mall yesterday and shot the photo above. As a frequent pedestrian on the mall, I pass the Fourth Street East vehicle crossing several times each day. Although I am not doing a scientific study, I am noticing a continued increase in vehicles crossing the mall at Fourth Street. It is a rare occurance that no vehicle is waiting to cross the mall when I cross Fourth Stsree on foot. In fact about half of the time lately there are several vehicles queued to cross.

Not only is there more vehicle traffic, but there is also an increase in the number of times a vehicle is stopped or even parked in the crossing. These vehicles block both crossing traffic and pedestrians. The vehicle in the photo was parked with its driver side door open while the driver was off doing some errand on the mall, I suppose. The driver was just returning when I had succeeded in digging my camara out of my bag and finding a reasonable angle for the shot. Perhaps this does not rise to the level of a crime, but it is clearly an issue that makes the mall less safe for all mall users.

Would a camera at the Fourth Street mall crossing be a good idea? I think so. Perhaps the police and neighborhood development services could collaborate in putting up a camera to do ongoing traffic counts and identify other traffic problems at the crossing in addition to providing some crime related benefit as well. If our community agrees that cameras on the mall is something worth doing, I hope we can put them where we can get the most value for our investment in as many ways as possible.

Perhaps there are already cameras capturing this area of the mall. My guess is that there are plenty of cameras already watching us as we walk the mall. If we knew how many cameras are already around, the few additional ones the city might consider adding might not add that much additional crime prevention and we could consider other actions to discourage crime in our downtown area. Shouldn't we have all the information about this issue available before we jump to a 'solution?'

1 comment:

Baron said...

I can't believe how rapidly council seem to be jumping on this "solution." Cameras or other intrusive big-brother police-state-style surveillance would be my last option after all others are exhausted, yet nobody seems to be discussing the options. Especially at such cost, you would think it's council's responsibility to do so! And why no reluctance to add more surveillance on top of the Federal government's secret surveillance that people loathe so much?

But what troubles me the most is that it seems everyone is assuming cameras are needed and will work. Have any experts been consulted, any studies been consulted from other cities that have tried this? Has anyone determined there's a real need for this anyway? Maybe so, but from what I've been reading about it, it doesn't seem so. (I couldn't make it to the meeting on the 16th, but I sure wanted to).