Bloomberg News reports that the number of surveillance cameras have greatly increased in New York. US cities are increasingly using camera surveillance systems, though their security benefits are questionable. Study after study – including some by law enforcement – has shown that closed circuit television systems (CCTV) have little effect on crime rates. In fact, studies found it is far more effective to spend limited law enforcement resources on adding more police officers to a community and improving street lighting in high crime areas than spending large amounts of money to install expensive technology.
The costs of camera surveillance systems, in terms of civil liberties, are evident. However, there is also a financial cost. I have often spoken about the fact that CCTV systems are neither effective nor cost-effective. The millions spent on camera surveillance is not spent in a vacuum. Any money spent to install, monitor and conduct upkeep on surveillance systems is money not spent on more proven crime-prevention techniques, such as increasing the number of officers on street patrol.
CCTV systems have often been sold to the public as systems that help prevent crime, yet camera surveillance systems are mainly beneficial for tracking down suspects after an attack. If you ask people what they want to spend money on — stopping an attack before it happens or catching the criminals after — the majority will say that they want the police to stop an attack from occurring, to protect people from harm. Having more trained police on the ground, in communities, interacting with concerned residents, building relationships and being there to react when there is a problem is much more useful for stopping an attack than pulling officers off the streets to sit watching surveillance footage.
Bloomberg reports on the implementation in New York City of the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative:
New York City, after tripling since June the number of cameras to monitor signs of terrorism, is almost halfway to its goal of installing 3,000 of the devices as part of its security network.
The spurt in additions to the $201 million initiative, which officials said is to be completed by 2013, may represent an increased urgency to finish the project. It comes in a year that saw federal convictions starting in June based on plots to bomb Times Square, John F. Kennedy International Airport and synagogues in the Bronx.
The New York Police Department unveiled the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative in 2005 as a proposed web of cameras, license-plate readers and radiation detectors. [...]
About 1,300 cameras are connected to the network as of this month, according to Paul J. Browne, a spokesman for the NYPD. In June, the network, which will be spread out to include Midtown Manhattan, had only 450 cameras, New York Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly has said. As of February 2009, he said there were 300 cameras. [...]
The surveillance system combines cameras, owned by the city and partners in the public and private sectors, with automated license-plate readers and biological, chemical, nuclear and radiation detectors, according to the police department. [...]
A command center opened two years ago in a Broadway office building a few blocks south of Wall Street. Personnel from the NYPD and its partners examine feeds from the cameras, alerts from license-plate readers and reports from 911 calls.
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