Cars used to line up on the street near a Newark public housing complex in a wait to buy drugs. That was before help came last year in the form of 700 cameras that peer from the tops of roofs, poles, and hallways as they keep watch 24 hours a day, seven days a week, on 10,000 residents at 27 housing complexes, the Newark Star-Ledger reports. At the scene of the drug drive-through, children now walk and play in the parking lot and the courtyard. At housing authority headquarters, the security-operations room looks like a scene from NASA’s control center — flat-screen monitors flicker on a wall as uniformed clerks flick away at small joysticks as they peer at computer screens.
The agency fired its security force of 26 special police officers and 85 security guards and made a one-time $5 million investment in surveillance equipment to replace the shoddy cameras that relied on VHS tapes. The number of safety complaints has fallen from 150 to 200 a month to fewer than 20 now. Still, critics question whether cameras are cost-effective and if they actually deter crime. Says Mike German of the American Civil Liberties Union: “Anything that collects tons of information of the innocent doesn’t make it easier to find guilty people. It’s really expensive and resource-intensive. It takes police officers off streets, puts them behind monitors, makes them less effective.”