Going Public in Support of Municipal Video Surveillance

There was a day when I was not so keen on the use of video surveillance in public areas. Today, I believe that public cameras serve a valuable service in specific instances, especially in locations known for high-crime against people and their property. With that said, I believe when this tactic is used in any community, it should be carefully orchestrated and monitored by a public/private sector commission made up of members of the public, police department and community leaders. Of course, not everyone will agree with public camera use under any condition.

For example, the city of Palm Coast, Fla., began looking at the possibility of installing cameras at specific intersections many years ago. A brief look at the city’s Web site shows conversations as far back as 2004. Public comment at a meeting held on Feb. 17, 2004, centered on the issue of spending thousands of dollars to install cameras that someone in authority at a higher level of government might force the city of Palm Cost to remove. The city fathers pushed on and after much deliberation, research, and effort, a number of cameras were installed at strategic locations.

There are many reasons why a community will want to install public cameras. In the case of Palm Coast, the need pertained to citizen’s incessant running of red lights. The installation took place in April 2007.

A Q&A contained in the Palm Coast April-May 2007 newsletter read, “Runners violate the red light if their vehicles proceed into an intersection when the red light for that vehicle’s direction of travel emits a steady red signal. Motorists already in the intersection when the signal changes to red are not considered red-light violators. Based on images captured by the automated system, the owner of a vehicle who was determined to have committed a violation will receive a $125 Notice of Violation.”

According to the city of Palm Coast, fines derived from this means are not subject to points on a driver’s license because a record of the citation is not sent to the state of Florida. In addition, insurance companies are not notified, which means insurance rates are not effected by speeding citations when performed in this manner.

Probably what convinced me to change my stance on public cameras, however, was the murder of a mother of two in Philadelphia. “Patricia McDermott, a mother of two, was murdered in the dark while the streets of Philadelphia were quiet. Without any human witnesses, the police would have had very little to work with had a special night vision camera not been previously installed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for a nearby federal government building,” says Jack Gin, who, at the time, was president and CEO of Extreme CCTV Inc. (published by Business Wire, July 28, 2005).

Let’s look at it this way, in public places there is no expectation of privacy, which has been confirmed by the courts time and time again. Where there is no expectation of privacy, you can install cameras. Through the use of citywide wireless networks, such as Firetide. Who knows, the life you save may be that of your own or someone you know.

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