Are Surveillance Cameras Worth It? The Evidence Isn’t Clear


Opponents and supporters of public surveillance cameras generally agree that while they provide an intuitive sense of security, they are not prolific solvers of violent crime, says the San Francisco Chronicle They can make a difference, but it is limited and tough to measure. They cannot guarantee safety, even within their field of view. What is not clear is whether the city’s surveillance effort is worth the cost, in money and privacy. Running separate programs since 2005, Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office has spent about $500,000 on the cameras, and the Housing Authority has spent $200,000.

San Francisco’s cameras aren’t monitored in real time, as they are in many other places – and thus can’t be turned or zoomed to take a close look at a suspect. A critic of the camera program, Mark Schlosberg of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the city isn’t recognizing its failure. Other cities, he said, also have failed to show that cameras reduce violent crime. Thomas Nestel III, a Philadelphia police inspector who studied cameras for his master’s thesis, called them an important tool in investigating and prosecuting crimes. Having live monitors for the cameras is important, he said. “The goal is to see the behavior before the crime occurs,” Nestel said. “You see somebody that is pacing back and forth in an area looking into cars. He hasn’t committed a crime yet, but you’re keyed into what he’s going to do.”


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