Will this bird’s eye view of the Downtown Mall soon be used for fighting crime? City police told City Council that in addition to securing public buildings Downtown, the whole corridor could be secured through a wireless camera system.
Earlier this month, Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy J. Longo submitted a proposal to City Manager Gary O’Connell that said, in sum: The city needs to secure its public buildings on the Downtown Mall. In addition, a wireless camera system could be implemented for about $300,000 to deter assaults and thefts outdoors. Though the decision will likely belong to City Council, C-VILLE sat down with the chief to ask some of the questions raised by a Downtown Mall surveillance system. Here’s an edited transcript.
C-VILLE: Why the Downtown Mall?
Chief Longo: I think [cameras are] highly effective in areas that have heavily populated pedestrian foot traffic…where you have a large number of people who come to congregate to enjoy amenities. Those are typically areas that could be preyed upon for purposes of criminal activity. It’s the economic engine that drives the city. It’s our greatest tax base. If people don’t feel safe coming Downtown, they won’t come Downtown. That affects all of us.
Is surveillance proven to be effective at reducing crime?
I think it’s an easier thing to demonstrate how it’s been useful in the retrospective investigation of a crime. It’s harder when you’re trying to say how much of a difference has the installation of this equipment had on the crime rate [in other areas].
Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy J. Longo says the Downtown Mall is a top candidate for video surveillance because “it’s the economic engine that drives the city.”
Would this be a privacy issue?
I don’t think it’s a constitutional argument as much as it is a public policy argument. We’ve accepted the private sector doing it. We’ve accepted the fact that if we go into the bank we’re being videoed. But when it’s the government, people tend to get a little more uncomfortable. I would take the position that [the Fourth Amendment] doesn’t apply unless there’s a reasonable expectation of privacy.
What would happen to the videos?
There is some utility in monitoring it in real time. The question is, do we have the capacity personnel-wise, and I don’t think right now we do. It’s important when you’re implementing a system like this that you are spending a lot of time on how the data will be stored, and for what purpose it will be used and to whom it will be accessible.
Why put cameras on the Mall instead of streets with higher crime?
Tell me where you want it. I’m not going to abandon my theory of putting it in heavily populated areas, but I’ll put this system anywhere you want it, if we agree that it could be productive in securing a safe community.
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