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Monday, May 5, 2008

Before the City Council Okays Nickels Putting Cameras Everywhere

posted by on May 5 at 18:17 PM

They might want to read this.

Massive investment in CCTV cameras to prevent crime in the UK has failed to have a significant impact, despite billions of pounds spent on the new technology, a senior police officer piloting a new database has warned. Only 3% of street robberies in London were solved using CCTV images, despite the fact that Britain has more security cameras than any other country in Europe.

And why aren’t those CCTV cameras preventing crime? Well, again, just 3% of street crimes are solved by CCTV, and Brits inclined toward street criminality are aware of just how ineffectual the cameras are. “There’s no fear of CCTV,” the Guardian quotes a police inspector as saying. “Why don’t people fear it? [They think] the cameras are not working.” And they think that, of course, because they’re not.

Here’s Erica C. Barnett on the surveillance cameras Nickels has already installed. The UK’s ineffectual, not-feared CCTV system is constantly monitored. It’s hard to imagine that Seattle’s spycams will be anymore effective, seeing they aren’t monitored at all. (The police, reports ECB, “would view the footage only when citizens report a crime.”)

Sounds like money wasted. Hire some more cops instead, please.

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That and the ACLU has been arguing against the installing of such cameras. But lots of people on SLOG love the idea of cameras everywhere in public!

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | May 5, 2008 6:41 PM

England has rapidly become a textbook example of how NOT to reduce crime. All those supposedly obvious solutions (cameras, banning guns) have not only failed, but have actually made the problem worse. Think long and hard before you advocate following their example here.

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | May 5, 2008 7:13 PM

Just think of all the slingshot usage the squirrels will get ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 5, 2008 7:16 PM

camera's everywhere suck. but sadly, most people jettison privacy issues for a feeling of security.
Which leads to:


several generations of technology down the road,

Government and private enterprise will combine face recognition technology, a national ID database and implanted transmitters to keep track of people.

First it will be for security area's such as airports, prisons, then
ex-cons (as part of an added lifetime sentence to be watched).

Jobs in the public sector: hospitals, police stations government buildings, court houses, schools.

then private spaces such as taxi's, stores, private offices.

then the gradual creep into the public space:
if You want to drive you need that special transmitter,
same for public transit, parks.

People without transmitters will get more scrutiny of course.

Finally, entire cities and towns can become watched areas-effectively gated communities.

Now as with "A Christmas Carol" these are visions of things that may come to pass, if things continue in this direction.

Incremental steps are hard to stop unless precautions are taken in advance.

And now a little poem.

Under the spreading chestnut tree
I sold you and you sold me
There lie they and here lie we
under the spreading chestnut tree.

Posted by LMSW | May 5, 2008 7:19 PM

For all of their talk about standing up to the Mayor and re-asserting their authority (and the Council has ratcheted that up more on this issue than most), what do you wanna bet they'll cave?

Posted by Mr. X | May 5, 2008 7:32 PM

David Brin's "The Transparent Society" is an excellent, if scary, read about exactly this subject.

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | May 5, 2008 7:47 PM

Dan your post presumes that the point of these cameras is to prevent crime. It's not.

Posted by Trevor | May 5, 2008 7:54 PM

I was the victim of a hit-and-run that took place literally right in front of the downtown police station, with several cameras pointed directly at it. After a loud crash that totaled both cars the other driver abandoned his car and fled the scene on foot.

They never caught the guy. I'm betting they never even rewound the tape.

Posted by flamingbanjo | May 5, 2008 8:09 PM

Can anyone say "V for Vendetta"?

Posted by zell | May 5, 2008 8:12 PM

Dan, I love you, (dearly), but only a complete jackass with no understanding of the difference between a capital expense and an operating expense would suggest that somehow a more cameras vs. more cops tradeoff makes any financial sense. That said... Applying the "any improvement at any cost" standard that the liberals around here carry as their banner (I refer you to the "fence in the Aurora Bridge NOW!" contingency) the only excuse for not having a camera on every corner (for that potential 3% benefit!!!) would be if those same liberals were more mugger than mugged... (Which would be far from surprising.)

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | May 5, 2008 8:12 PM

you gotta be kidding me, your name is spot on for your post. cost differences aside, what really justifies a cap expendeture for little quantifiable good?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 5, 2008 8:19 PM

@10, liberals are not generally in favor of government monitoring of citizens. That's more the province of the gated-community / right-wing nuts.

Posted by rob | May 5, 2008 8:46 PM

@12 The liberals may not be in favor of government monitoring citizens, but they sure love government dictating citizen behavior. Or at least bullying citizens into behavior patterns. /dry

Cameras frighten me. I don't like the idea of being watched, even if I get mugged. Even if I am attacked for being gay (though I much prefer being an attacker of homophobes). I don't like it because footage can also be edited and manipulated (aside from abused).

Nope, don't like it at all.

Posted by TheMisanthrope | May 5, 2008 8:52 PM

@12 The liberals may not be in favor of government monitoring citizens, but they sure love government dictating citizen behavior. Or at least bullying citizens into behavior patterns. /dry

Cameras frighten me. I don't like the idea of being watched, even if I get mugged. Even if I am attacked for being gay (though I much prefer being an attacker of homophobes). I don't like it because footage can also be edited and manipulated (aside from abused).

Nope, don't like it at all.

Posted by TheMisanthrope | May 5, 2008 8:53 PM
Posted by bronkitis | May 5, 2008 9:09 PM

Did anybody listen to KUOW last week when ECB made her debut as The Stranger's News Editor?

A citizen -- or a paranoid nutcase, to be exact -- called in and asked what was to prevent the tape from being destroyed by the police whenever the camera recorded police brutality, as long as only the police control the tape. The other paranoid nutcases want all the images broadcast on the web, and archived on public access servers.

ECB tried to respond to the question, but utterly, utterly failed to understand the issue, and instead rode her own personal hobby horse about re: the city budget, as in the column Dan linked to.

Lucky these people are all paranoid, or we might want to be concerned.

Posted by elenchos | May 5, 2008 9:11 PM

Security is not important. Only the appearance of security is important.

Posted by Fnarf | May 5, 2008 10:29 PM

Putting up hundreds or even thousands of CCTV's defeats the entire purpose of such surveilance, which is namely, to make the bad guys think the mere presence of the cameras represents a potential threat to their activities.

The sheer number of them now means that it is almost impossible for any individual or group of individuals to monitor them in any effective manner; who could watch that many separate images simultaneously and glean any useful information from them? And the likelihood of extracting evidence after a crime has already been committed is effectively reduced as well; the evidence may be there, but now the cops have to spend inordinate amounts of time culling through the recordings made by a dozen or so cameras scoping the same general area to find the few seconds of footage that might give them a visual clue to a perps identity.

The bad guys have already found the weak point in the multi-camera concept; many cameras recording from multiple angles still means only one or two are going to be focused in exactly the correct position to pick up anything remotely useful. And heck, if one camera pointed directly at the counter doesn't stop people from robbing convenience stores, where did anyone get the brilliant idea that 20 cameras randomly pointed around a park or square would be any more effective?

I liken it to the analogy of dealing with crows. One easy solution to keep them from raiding your garden, or more aptly, attacking your cats, is to put one of those plastic owls on your roof. Crows know owls can kick their ass, so they back off.

But, what if, instead of one or two plastic owls on your block, you and all your neighbors suddenly put up 200 of them? Eventually, even the stupidest crow is going to figure out that 200 of their mortal enemies are just sitting there doing nothing; they don't move, they don't attack, they don't make noise, they just sit there. How long would it take the crows to recognize the plastic owls don't represent any kind of actual threat to them? Not very long would be my guess.

The result is you end up with exactly the opposite of your intended purpose: now the crows have become so desensitized by the sheer ubiquity of catatonic owls that they are no longer afraid of being around them, and they go back to their previous behavior.

It's sort of an electronic variation of the "crying wolf" phenomenon - and everybody knows how that story turns out.

Posted by COMTE | May 5, 2008 11:26 PM

What hasn't been mentioned is that a major problem with cmaeras is that the technology just isn't there yet. The images aren't good enough and the recognition programs aren't either. Last year we had visit from a criminologist who studies such things and what he had to share was eye opening.

In one particular case in England two older kids took a younger one and murdered him. Yes, the cameras were functional but all they could do was show that he left with two older boys, and which direction they'd headed...the images weren't good enough for any further identification. They were eventualy caught see:

The take home message though is that cameras are of limited value...there are people working on it but it's not there yet. (This should not be taken as either an endorsement or condemnation of cameras for public safety but at the moment Dan is definitely right about hiring more officers.)

Posted by clarity | May 5, 2008 11:49 PM

@10 - it's liberals like me that served so neocon idiots like you could spout anti-American anti-privacy claptrap like you espouse.

More cameras won't make you safer.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 6, 2008 12:30 AM

CCTV is seen as the panacea to all of our modern ailments here ......NOT!

Posted by Curly | May 6, 2008 2:38 AM

Dan, have you looked in to the rate at which the Seattle police are solving street robberies today? I suspect a 3% solution rate might be a vast improvement over what we have today.

Posted by David Wright | May 6, 2008 3:27 AM

Finally! Der Nickels will install cameras all over the Fatherciti!! This truly is a glorious vicotory for the allies of the Volk in the city of Seattle! Now we can spy on the vermin that haunt our city parks and soon can install "Freedom Watch Devices" near the various places that need extra freedom and security to watch over their activities. Perhaps synagouges, homosexual bars and other such gathering places!!

Forward to Freedom through totalitarianism!! A glorious day indeed! Tell your representative in the Reichstag...I mean City Council to support Der Nickels in this glorious move for the people!!

Posted by Onward to Totalitarianism!! | May 6, 2008 7:20 AM

Rather illogical arguments in this thread.

1. TV cameras every being not effective has little if anything to do with 2 or 3 being effective.

2. if not monitoring is the problem monitor them.

3. you are not in private in a public park the "privacy" concerns are baloney. The government has no less ability to watch you than....everyone else in the park.

4. The paranoid nutcase is insane if the police destroyed the tape showing brutality that would be exhibit A in their trial and the jury would rely on that to convict them.

5. Obviously monitored cameras work or else why would so many banks etc. have them? Alarums reciting every possible argument against (they don't work! they violate your rights! they will be misused!) rarely are persuasive.

6. if TV cameras don't work and violate your rights why don't we just blind all the cops we already have. That would protect your privacy rights and prevent police brutality, too.

7. Expense arguments are stupid as pointed out. Yes, the cameras shouldn't cost $70K -- but the answer is to look into that and get them chepaer not throw up your hands. A police officers costs about $150-250K a year including benes equipment etc.

They should be monitored by noncop employees.

8. The whole privacy notion is raised by a bunch of nervous nellies many of whom go to banks with cameras, live in aprtments with cameras or ohmygod an actual doorman, and most of whom do venutre outside in public venues whre hordes of unkown strangers can WATCH WHAT THEY'RE DOING as they eat Thai food at Westlake and go shopping and drink in a bar OHMYGOD EVERYONE CAN SEE ME boo hoo, boo hoo.

Hey if you want to go make out or do drugs in a park don't do it in V. S. park right there by the market go to a secluded part of volunteer or Magnuson park, ok?

There's not significant reduction in your privacy rights by having a few cameras focused on one of the most public places in Seattle. What do you want an invisibility drug?

Posted by unPC | May 6, 2008 10:03 AM

@11, @12 & @20:

I never said I thought the CCTV cameras were a good idea.

I just said that if the Ass-hats that want to fence in the Aurora Bridge were faithful to their fiscal philosophy (any expense is justifiable if it just saves one life) that they would have to be in favor of this colossal waist of money also. But I expect that their self interest will trump their idealogical purity. (Willing to waist money fencing a bridge for negligible benefit if their only inconvenience is a blocked view, not so much if it might interfere with their ability to smoke pot and fuck in public privately.

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | May 6, 2008 10:04 AM

I agree with the general theme of this thread stating that CCTV cameras will be ineffective, but I do take issue with #2's statement that the failure of CCTV to stop crimes means that gun bans are likewise faulty. Less guns floating around in a society generally means less capacity for gun deaths or crimes committed with guns (usually resulting in gun-related injuries or deaths). According to 2003 murder-by-firearms data on, the US had 8259 deaths by firearm that year, while the UK had 62. But I suppose, as the late comedian Bill Hicks said, I must be some sort of fool or communist to make any connections between these two facts.

Posted by bookworm | May 6, 2008 10:20 AM

And Canada had fewer, unless you count deaths by pig farmers.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 6, 2008 10:31 AM

Cameras in Victor Steinbrueck and Pioneer Square make sense. There are serious issues there where shop owners, residents and tourists see crimes happen almost every day, but no cop sees it directly. Even if the perp gets arrested, he or she is out on the street the next day. If we have cameras in these places we can give troublemakers a harsher sentence and get them out of our most visible public spaces.

Posted by Cale | May 6, 2008 1:48 PM

I've been on a jury in the UK twice, both times with CCTV used as evidence. The quality was so unbearably piss-poor (think 5th or 6th generation VHS, with an image only every second) that it was very, very hard to tell what was happening.

Even when 'inappropriate touching' (technically, sexual assault) allegedly happened right in front of the camera.

So if you do get your cameras I hope they spend more than 5 down the local junk shop to get the technology and update it more than once a decade.

Posted by fluffyyBunny | May 7, 2008 2:49 AM

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