This is where my political road departs from my liberal brethren and the conservative paranoids. It is not 1984. It is not Big Brother. And despite what the American Civil Liberties Union says, and I am a dues-paying member, the U.S. Supreme Court has said that what happens on the public streets and sidewalks is not private. This ain’t Vegas.
So why are so many voices against security cameras on public streets in downtown Columbia to aid in the apprehension of those who break the law? The cameras are a tool, adding another set of eyes to keep our streets safe.
Why is our city council so adamant that the safety of our citizens is secondary to the budget, especially when the council had already appropriated the money? Ninety-one percent of the citizens of Columbia and businesses of “The District” (how I hate that moniker) see the use of such cameras as a good thing, according to a poll hosted by the group Keep Columbia Safe.
The group's name echoes the intention of the petition to require the City Council to consider downtown cameras.
Why would members of council, especially those who wish to run for Darwin Hindman’s mayoral seat in April, make this a privacy and money issue? That is just stupid.
Do citizens complain when they enter a retail store with cameras facing every direction but up? Or with cameras facing parking lots, watching cars come and go, searching for cars parked in spaces reserved for the disabled without a license or hangtag? Or left running with the 5-year-old sitting inside – alone? No.
If you are afraid of losing your privacy or being followed by “the man,” you need to stay home.
You will want to stay out of downtown St. Louis. The Partnership for Downtown St. Louis, which includes the new Busch Stadium, operates its own surveillance system, contacting the St. Louis Police Department when needed, a spokesperson said in a phone interview. Stay out of Kansas City, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago … Cameras cameras everywhere. Smile.
Do you want to know if security cameras work? I asked LinkedIn users about experiences around the world. The Cape Town Partnership’s (South Africa) CEO Michael Farr said crime is down 46 percent in the downtown business district with security cameras “seen as one of the principal reasons for crime levels declining.” Deterrent, maybe. Crime stopper, absolutely.
Pittsburgh’s security camera program, though short-lived, has been deemed a success, according to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s spokesperson, Joanna Doven.
Tim Tymchyshyn, IT manager in Saskatchewan, Canada, brought up yet another advantage for the use of security cameras. He suggested that, in addition to catching the bad guys, cameras would also, “protect the police and protect who is being arrested.”
So, what’s the problem? More than likely distrust of government in general and of the Columbia Police Department in particular, as noted with the demand for, and establishment of, the Police Review Board. Not to say that all cops are the nicest guys and gals on the planet and that there are no rotten apples in the bunch. But to distrust the entire department for the actions of few makes little sense.
The second problem is a misbelief that everything we do is somehow private, even when done in public locations. Ask me about the woman screaming into her telephone in a checkout line. I now know everything about her husband’s sordid affair with a waitress. In fact, I could write about the affair in this column. It is now public.
Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton has said that the cameras have a deterrent effect. Others suggest that cameras will provoke people to commit crimes while seeking 15-seconds of fame. I respectfully disagree with both statements. The cameras are a tool, an extra set of eyes for public safety. And if somebody wants to “perform” for the camera, he deserves to be jailed.
Carrie Gartner, executive director of “The District,” said that the special business district and its members were and are willing to meet the city halfway to foot the cost of the mobile security cameras. That leaves the city with a $25,000 outlay, a smaller financial impact than suggested by Fourth Ward councilman and mayoral candidate Jerry Wade.
Let’s review: City owned cameras have already proved themselves as a crime-fighting tool. An advocacy group has found that 91 percent of Columbians want security cameras in the downtown shopping district. Downtown business owners will help pay for them.
So why does our council not care to follow the wishes of their constituents? Mr. Wade?
David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. Read his blog at InkandVoice.wordpress.com. He welcomes your comments at ProfDave1011@netscape.net.