Street Cameras: Real Crime Tool or Feel-Good Gadget?


A new crop of police surveillance cameras is sprouting in cities big and small. New York is installing 500 on street corners; Chicago is upgrading several thousand; and even the city of Dillingham, Alaska, has 80 – one for every 30 residents. But how useful are they? An analysis in the New York Times notes that someone has to monitor these thousands of video monitors.

Law enforcement officials argue that just putting up a camera in plain sight can deter crime. And some see a future in which software will analyze video for possible signs of terrorist activity, like someone placing a suitcase in front of a building. But some security experts say the cameras are of limited value – largely in helping investigators after a crime – and are not cost-effective. They point to a large study by the Home Office in Britain, which has perhaps the world’s most videotaped population, that found cameras to be ineffective in reducing crime, except in locations like parking garages. “Cameras make people feel better,” said one expert. “But they really don’t make sense.”


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