LETTER: Downtown cameras will prevent crime

Tuesday, March 2, 2010 | 3:58 p.m. CST

We support city-placed surveillance cameras downtown. The police chief would control their placement. We already have city-owned cameras in police vehicles controlled by the police chief. Many businesses have cameras. The city has cameras on the new municipal building. Cameras are an excellent crime deterrent with no downside. If you want privacy, stay home. Cameras do work; they caught Adam Taylor’s attackers. Please vote “yes” to cameras.

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Glenn Rice March 3, 2010 | 3:03 p.m.

1. Cameras didn't catch Adam Taylor's attackers; the police did.

2. Cameras do have downsides -- they cost money and jobs, and they spy on the innocent and criminal alike.

3. Cameras have not been proven to deter crime. Chief Burton said he thought they did, "intuitively", but offered no evidence and also said he'd rather have another officer instead.

4. If I have to stay home in order not to be spied upon, I've lost a big piece of my freedom. Camera supporters -- why do you hate freedom and jobs for cops?

5. Even if I believed spy cameras were effective, why should I pay for cameras that don't cover my street? How come downtown gets the cameras, even though the vast majority of crime happens elsewhere?

(Report Comment)
Liz Mitchell March 3, 2010 | 9:56 p.m.

Proponents of installing cameras in the District claim it would deter crime. I'm not so sure. Great Britain is the most video-monitored society on the planet and has used surveillance for many years. Despite that, it was recently reported that for every 1000 cameras in Britain, only one crime was solved per year. See the BBC story at

Then consider the Sunshine Laws of Missouri. While private video from a business or resident might be used by the police to pursue criminals and to prosecute a particular crime, the footage can be used for just the one case. A city owned camera's footage, however, must be made available to anyone who requests it and it must continue to be available for years, if not forever.

I support any business or resident who wants cameras on their property and I'm sure most camera owners would cooperate with the police, but I'd be more comfortable shopping or having a bite to eat if I didn't feel "Big Brother" watching me. While I don't harbor paranoid fantasies about our government or about stalkers, either, I'd rather not have footage of me available to anyone who is willing to acquire it.

I have a problem with both the efficacy and privacy issues. I'd like to know if Columbia's downtown crime rate has actually risen. If so, would we not see better results from more officers patrolling the area? Even if we were to commit resources and cede our privacy to surveillance in the District, would there be significant crime reduction?

We all want to be safe. It is all too easy, however, to get swept away after a single incident focuses our attention on something like surveillance cameras. The Adam Taylor incident has been held up as an example of how cameras made the capture of this young man's assailants possible. Perhaps. Identification of several suspects came quickly with the footage, but it was incriminating statements by the suspects that clinched the arrests. The accused assailants were already known to the police. I'm confident that CPD officers would have been completely capable of investigating this assault and apprehending the assailants even without the footage.

Even if the footage did make all the difference in this case, this was still only a single incident. There is no way one can extrapolate and make policy based upon one incident. We are bound to want to "do something about" the perceived "crime problem." Yes, the Adam Taylor assault was a crime. Crime happens and that is why we have police. But, again: has the assault rate in the District been on the rise? Will cameras really make a difference in the rate that crimes are solved? Will the loss of privacy and the potential future use or misuse of footage that must be preserved by law be worth it even if a few more cases were actually to be solved? I think these questions need to be considered.

(Report Comment)
Glenn Rice March 4, 2010 | 10:36 a.m.

Excellent points, Liz, particularly your conclusion. Do we really want to make policy (and spend lots of money) on the basis of a single incident and a public "perception"?

Maybe the SBD should work on changing the perception -- say, by pointing out actual crime statistics and clearance rates.

(Report Comment)
Johnathan Smith March 22, 2010 | 5:56 p.m.

Cameras will NOT prevent crime! To prevent crime you must deal with the social ills that are destroying our society. Yet people are not concerned about the other person and they are not willing to pay those costs. They only selfishly want to feel that they are safe.

Vote NO on prop 1!

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