March 10, 2006 Police Using of Video Cameras
Police Chief Richard Bull of the Ripon Police Department recently embarked on an innovative approach of using technology to help police his community. I applaud him for his initiative, creativity and his willingness to make use of technology despite the potential for controversy.
Specifically, Ripon PD is making use of remote-controlled video cameras which are placed throughout the community. The cameras' video feeds are visible to police dispatchers and the officers themselves as they patrol the streets. Among the reasons for the cameras is to give officers real-time information as they respond to emergency calls at a specific location. They should also prove useful when officers make contact with suspicious persons or when they make traffic stops. Areas of the community that have crime or traffic problems can be monitored through use of the cameras. Crime incidents, traffic collisions and other emergencies can also be detected by the 911 dispatchers, which can be particularly helpful when no one else is around to report the incidents.
Frankly, the potential uses for the wireless video camera system is endless - and therein lies the issue that may block some communities from following Ripon's lead. There tends to be a mixed reaction to the idea that "someone may be watching," and this mindset is not at all limited only to people who commit crimes. Many people who have no propensity, whatsoever, to commit crimes may also object to being watched by government employees who might abuse the system. It is a real concern that comes up anytime this kind of technology is contemplated by government entities.
For my own part, and while I am not a likely candidate for criminal behaviour, I too find the idea of being watched on camera a bit unsettling. However, my rational mind says otherwise. Just about all retail outlets have cameras placed strategically throughout the entire store. Restaurants, hospitals, banks, gambling establishments (especially), and now more frequently, residential homes, all have surveillance cameras. These camera systems have been in use for many years in England for traffic control, to monitor city infrastructure and to aid in criminal apprehension. It is almost like the day of the camera is already very much a part of our lives, but few people pay attention to it. The fact that police departments are now starting to make use of the devices seems to evoke different considerations which make some people uneasy.
My staff and I here in Ceres have been studying the opportunities for using a wireless video system to aid, firstly, in the prevention of crime and to help us catch criminals. The cost of outfitting this community would be approximately $750,000. I believe such a system would be very effective and would certainly add a large measure of security and peace of mind for citizens living or visiting here. It would also be an outstanding officer safety aid which, as the recent past has shown us, would be a welcomed addition.
It is an established fact that Ceres, as is the case in most other communities, needs more police officers to help curtail crime and to keep it from happening in the first place. And while I am not suggesting that we use technology to supplant these officers, it would certainly be a great supplement to the police force. The future of the camera technology for communities like ours lies with citizens' sentiment and the availability of funds.
Most certainly, the crime suppression benefits and increased security that accompanies the use of surveillance cameras must be weighed against the peoples' reticence about being watched by "big brother." It is not an easy issue to decide on. Yet, more and more people are starting to show an uneasy acceptance of the idea of resorting to technology for improving their sense of safety. This seems to be in direct proportion to their perception of being more vulnerable to becoming potential crime victims. It may be that this option will be seen as the lesser of evils. Coupled with the fact that cameras are already just about everywhere except (as a general rule) in public places, the population may indeed be ready to accept technology as a necessity to help ensure its safety. In any event, the debate about this is less than straightforward.
As my staff and I explore the technological and costs aspects of an initiative like this, we also would like to understand the wishes of our population. Clearly, we in the Central Valley are experiencing plenty of crime, and the cameras could well make a big difference in our overall safety and security.
For Ceres residents, persons employed here, business owners and others who frequent this community, I ask that if you wish to share your views with us on this matter, you send an e-mail message to Mary Fenton, at email@example.com. I thank you in advance for your interest. We will also monitor Ripon's experience during the coming months to learn about the camera program's effectiveness and the public acceptance aspect of it.