COLUMN: 'Conspicuous' cameras mean criminals know where they are

Thursday, April 1, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 9:51 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Benjamin Franklin said, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

The preamble of the Constitution declares that government is designed to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility… (and) promote the general Welfare…”


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Where do you stand?

As the April 6 election quickly approaches, I have been asked several times about my endorsements. This election is important for a number of reasons, all equally as important, from the reconfiguration of City Council to school funding.

Living outside city limits, I do not expect mailings from the council or mayoral candidates. Unfortunately, I have received little information from any of the school district candidates or about the bond issue. However, our own George Kennedy provided his report earlier this month. If you are still unsure for whom to vote, read Kennedy’s column.

What I do know about the mayoral and City Council candidates comes mostly from the Sunday newspaper advertisements. I also note that they all share one portion of their platforms: law and order.

Paralleling the candidates’ law-and-order march is Proposition 1 – the proposal to locate “conspicuous” mobile security cameras in the Columbia Special Business District.

Karen Taylor and Keep Columbia Safe, “a grass-roots effort concerned with the issues of crime and safety,” are the proponents. Only mayoral candidate Bob McDavid supports this proposition.

The opposition includes the American Civil Liberties Union and Keep Columbia Free. The other mayoral candidates also oppose the use of the cameras.

In political circles, the basis for a law-and-order campaign is usually fear mongering. For Keep Columbia Safe, that is the fear of crime, specifically violent crime, in downtown Columbia.

For Keep Columbia Free, it is the fear of an Orwellian world of Big Brother and loss of privacy. As part of their campaign, they are having a special showing of “1984” on Friday.

Keep Columbia Free insists there is no evidence that security cameras have no direct effect on crime. They have statistical data proving this point but not of Orwell’s predictions.

Keep Columbia Safe is using Adam Taylor’s situation as its support. Yes, the beating was violent and criminal. Unfortunately, it is anecdotal and there appears to be little other supporting material or evidence.

If cameras were really a true deterrent, then we would not have as many pretty pictures of bank robbers. Bridgette Patton of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Kansas City office told me that surveillance camera images are used in the investigations and may be perceived as an apparent deterrent, which is why the robbers covers their faces. This also means that the images are not always useful. Also, too many criminals think they are smarter than the law. To those potential masterminds: You are not.

Here is the next hurdle. The cops have to tell the public where the cameras will be placed. Noting that there is little, if any, cooperation between criminals and police officers, I doubt that the criminal will tell the police where the next crime will be. This is the biggest problem with the proposed conspicuous mobile cameras. No quid pro quo.

Although members of the Special Downtown Business District have supported the cameras in the past, it was done, in my opinion, as a feel-good measure. We perceive that the streets of Columbia are more dangerous today than in the past. According to information provided by the Columbia Police Department, they are not. There have been more arrests for assault in Columbia not because of cameras but because of the reassignment of patrols.

After my own research, and with my apologies to the Taylor family, I cannot support Proposition 1 for one reason: the cameras are only a feel-good solution to crime. Our tax dollars can be better spent by encouraging more livable-wage jobs in Columbia,encouraging more businesses in moderate and low-income sections of the city, and providing a better public transportation system so these same men and women can get to and from work.

David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at and The New York Journal of Books.

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Dan Viets April 2, 2010 | 10:42 a.m.


Good for you. You've reached the correct conclusion.
The data is indisputable that surveillance cameras on public streets and sidewalks do not reduce or help solve crime. Parking gargages are not the same.
Check out for more information.

Dan Viets

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro April 2, 2010 | 2:17 p.m.

David Rosman says:
("...the proposal to locate “conspicuous” mobile security cameras in the Columbia Special Business District.
...a feel-good measure.")

I just can't wait to be filmed by conspicuous cameras in "The District," and hope to have the opportunity to view Ms. Taylor, her entourage, Mr. Rosman, Mr. Viets and all of Columbia on broadcasts all over the internet.
And although I plan on watching that very poignant "1984" film once again, a 1985 revisit puts things in perspective.
That's when I learned that it's better to look good than to feel good.
And you look mahvelous!

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 2, 2010 | 6:45 p.m.

Should cameras be installed in The District, what is the potential charge for "mooning" one of them? Is it only a misdemeanor or is it a felony? Inquiring minds want to know.

(Report Comment)
Carl Kabler April 2, 2010 | 10:07 p.m.

I agree with Mr. Viets, while I'm not sure turning downtown Columbia into some 1984 Big Brother scenario would necessarily lower SERIOUS crime or even help merchants create an atmosphere of 'safety', I do agree there are PROBABLY spots such as parking garages and other very secluded areas that might benefit from having some extra security such as cameras.

I have to wonder though, what kind of 'crime' is happening downtown, I go do there routinely and have never once felt threatened, I visit businesses there often and always feel safe. I understand the Chamber of Commerces desire to create a 'safer' environment, but really is there a problem looking for a solution, or rather a solution looking for a problem?

Personally I would feel much more awkward walking in a district that has up lots of cameras, it would make me feel like I was in a fishbowl and wonder why the NEED for such things. Too, I see what has happened in the U. K. where they seem to be livng Orwell's worst nightmare, 1 camera for every 4 people, always under someone watching, even being filmed in their restrooms from the waste up and having their dumpsters surveiled, that to me seems totally absuive of a 'free people', I have to wonder if they can do it there how long until it lands on our shores.

So again, the answer is to to provide an atmosphere where citizens feel safe and comfortable enough to go about there business unimpeeded, I'm not convinced there is a need yet that exists above what CPD can achieve with simply reasonable and regular patrolling procedures. I'm not convinced it would be worth the cost both in tax dollars or in the loss IMO of the open and casual downtown atmosphere.

If we're talking about preventing a homocide or assault in some secluded parking garage then I say ok, but if we're talking about putting surveillance cameras soon on every street and alley in the downtown to perhaps catch someone who has had too many, urinating in an alley somewhere, then I say, that to me doesn't seem to be worth the price. It's all about in my mind what is REASONABLE and what is really NEEDED (or not) and what you are getting for the money (and for theintrusion).

(Report Comment)

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