By the end of this month, Lancaster, Pa., will have 165 cameras watching residents and visitors, making it the most highly surveilled city per capita in the state, and possibly the nation, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. Beyond the sheer number of cameras watching the city of 55,000, Lancaster is unusual in that a private group, not police, monitors the cameras. The nonprofit Lancaster Community Safety Coalition provides its own training and is not overseen by any public agency.
Residents in the park have mixed reactions. The cameras are hidden inside black orbs hung from what look like white street lights. Inside the orbs the cameras swivel, pan, and zoom. They are powerful enough to make out a face or a license plate a block or more away. “What’s next?” said one. “You can’t get away with anything anymore. You can’t even smoke a cigarette in front of a building.” Camera footage has helped police arrest people charged with homicide, assault, gun, and drug sales, as well as lesser crimes: Staffers have called police to report public drinking and two adults engaging in a “sex act” in a park, said the coalition’s Joseph Morales, who also serves on the City Council. In 2008, the coalition said, it made 492 calls to police, resulting in 82 arrests and 86 citations.