Bellows Falls, Vt., population 3,050, is using federal grant money to install 16 surveillance cameras, reports the Washington Post. The city will have three fewer police surveillance cameras than the District of Columbia, which has 181 times Bellows Falls’s population. Similar cameras are already up in the Virginia communities of Galax and Tazewell, and in tiny Preston, Md., with two police officers and five police cameras. The growth of small-town surveillance camera systems seems to be changing the way such places are policed.
Despite the popularity of these systems, some critics question whether they are any good at stopping crimes in progress. In “Nothing will be happening most of the time. Multiply that by several cameras with nothing happening, all the time. It’s very difficult for any human being to be vigilant,” said Michael Scott of the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, which gets federal funding to write guidelines for police procedures. The departments of Justice and Homeland Security were unable to compile information about how many small-town camera programs the agencies had funded, or how much had been spent. Many police departments had success stories — license plates spotted, witnesses located or suspects caught through the new camera technology.