Last year’s Phoenix serial killer case jump-started a state-of-the-art surveillance system that not even the cop shows on TV have caught up with yet, says Governing magazine. Wireless cameras that tilt, pan, and zoom now can be strung up in neighborhoods quickly, and police can watch the images from headquarters, in squad cars, or on handheld devices. Despite the half-million-dollar price tag, it wasn't a tough sell to purchase wireless mesh cameras in a jittery city with a police department desperately trying to get the murderers rounded up. Officials are tight-lipped about the precise way the cameras were used in the Baseline Killer case (named for the road where the initial incidents took place). Mounted in a 5-square-mile radius where some of the murders occurred, they were considered an important tool.
The Phoenix police department hasn't heard many complaints about training cameras on public streets to combat heinous crimes. It now is increasingly difficult for residents and visitors in large cities to go about their business without one camera or another trained on them at some point. Los Angeles cameras observe the historic area, the fashion district, downtown's skid row, and a public housing project. In Secaucus, N.J., scores of them are used for surveillance in the many corners of New Jersey Transit's train station. In Howard County, Md., they keep a watchful eye on the landfill, a rifle range, and a park. Critics say the presence of cameras moves criminals a few blocks away to get out of camera range. That is not so futile as it might seem; when drug dealers move to unfamiliar locations, they are off balance. In the old neighborhoods, they knew where to hide drugs, the lines of sight from their dealing area, who was a friend and who was not. Forcing them to new territory puts them at a disadvantage and helps police catch them making mistakes.