Optical Illusion: Does Buffalo's Surveillance System Make Our Streets Safer?
You've seen them. They're everywhere. The all-seeing eye blinking from up above, emitting a blue light every few-seconds at regular intervals. It's a surveillance system installed by the City of Buffalo and it's keeping a watchful eye on everything below it.
But who, exactly, is it watching?
Hint: it's not the criminals.
There may be less to the city's surveillance system than meets the eye.
The selling point of these expensive, high-end, security systems is that they will keep the streets safer and reduce crime. Politicians swear by it, and police chiefs stand by them. But is crime down as a result? Well, if the FBI, Forbes magazine, and the Huffington Post were to be believed, here in Buffalo, at least, the answer is a resounding no.
I'm hardly the first person to point out the lack of correlation that exists between surveillance systems installed by municipalities and a reduction in crime. You can find studies here, here and here.
Before proceeding, let's take the concept for a spin.
Your old problem is now your neighbor's problem.
Suppose that, after much pleading, a new surveillance camera is installed on your street corner. Suddenly, drug dealers vanish from the site and the corner is free from illicit activities now that the system is installed. Mission accomplished, right? Well, it depends on who you ask.
Were I a criminal and I was suddenly subject to the prying eyes of the government via a surveillance system keeping an eye on things from 30 feet up above, what options do I have?
Let's explore the options:
A.) Continue business as usual at the existing site alongside my new 24/7 companion.
B.) Close up shop and start a new venture.
C.) Move my business to a new location.
Chances are that a street-smart criminal would simply relocate down the street where there is no camera. Thus, "C" is likely their choice.
As a result, what you may find is that activities have now shifted from one corner to the next. This means that what was once your problem is now your neighbor's problem to deal with. While the site where transactions take place has changed, the activities themselves have not. It's back to business as usual just right down the street. In turn, it's not the criminal that's being watched. Only an empty corner.
Following this line of thinking, it stands to reason that crime has not been reduced as a result of installing a new camera system. Rather, it has shifted to a new location. But the problem remains.
Yes, I would "feel" safer with a blue light camera installed on my block. But will my neighbor down the street?
Who's watching the watchers?
Will violence continue to increase in Buffalo? Will rash shootings and homicides persist?
Recent headlines are not encouraging:
- Shooting incident ends on 33; victim later dies. - WGRZ, July 6, 2014
- Four Injured in Overnight Shooting. - WKBW, July 7, 2014
- Buffalo Police Investigate Two Sunday Shootings. - Time Warner Cable, July 7, 2014
- As summer begins, three die in separate Buffalo shootings. - The Buffalo News, June 23, 2014
- Man critically injured in shooting at William Street bar. - The Buffalo News, July 5, 2014
The next time we hear yet another politician trumpet the next $1 million purchase of a new "crime deterrent" system, all the while violence continues to skyrocket in the absence of true crime reform, consider the optics.
There are certainly better, more cost effective alternatives to deter crime.
Social Media Commentary.
I asked what your thoughts were on surveillance cameras in the city.
Below are some of your responses.