Residents Worried Surveillance Cameras Will Hurt New Orleans’ Vibe

Would you act any different at Mardi Gras, or even avoid it all together, if cameras were watching? That’s what the people of New Orleans are afraid of.

NEW ORLEANS — More and more cities across the United States have begun instituting surveillance camera programs. While local police departments see these programs as beneficial, certain residents see them as invasive.

Facing an unyielding violent crime problem, officials here want to create an extensive video monitoring system that would require every business with an alcohol license to install street-facing security cameras, and connect them to a real-time monitoring center overseen by the city, according to The New York Times.

Police say that live streams and recorded footage from the cameras would be used primarily to solve violent crimes, however residents are worried that they will “suck the soul ” out of the city.

“We have a very vibrant public life, where people feel free to express themselves in public — and I’m not just talking about beads and lifting your top on Mardi Gras,” says Bruce Hamilton, a staff attorney with the civil liberties union’s Louisiana branch. “Everyone acts different when they know the government is watching,” Mr. Hamilton said. “Suddenly you’re aware of being watched, and being followed, and it changes how you act.”

Last fall, the city opened its real time crime monitoring center to review footage from cameras installed at 20 designated crime “hot spots.”

“It’s going to be very clinical — it’s going to take the mystique, the romanticism out of the city,” resident Alyx Gauthier says about the cameras.

In response to the camera’s criticisms, Police Superintendent Michael S. Harrison says, “I don’t think it’s going to change the nature of the city the way this citizen that you spoke to characterized it. I think it’s going to change the nature of this city because criminals, who have in their heart, mind and soul to commit violent harm against other citizens, will think differently.”

As part of the wider surveillance plan, if a 911 dispatcher in New Orleans were to receive a report of a serious crime, software at the monitoring center would automatically call up video from the cameras nearest to the scene.

Residents that live further away from tourist areas seem to approve of the proposed surveillance program.

“They could put cameras everywhere, as far as I care,” says Katherine Prevost, head of the Ninth Ward’s Bunny Friend Neighborhood Association. “If you’re doing the right thing anyway, the cameras shouldn’t matter.”

Detroit has seen success with a similar program named Project Green Light. The program is voluntary, however, Detroit’s mayor is looking to extended it to every retail business in the city with late-night hours.

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