Surveillance cameras now key to slowing mob attacks

Thousands of city-owner and privately-owned cameras keep watch over downtown streets.

Surveillance cameras will become the new weapon of choice in Philadelphia’s war on mob violence.

Three students involved in an attack on the afternoon of July 29, hours before swarms of wilding youths spurred authorities to announce a citywide crackdown, have been identified after school officials went door to door soliciting video footage of the incident.

The process is becoming even easier for investigators as the police department rolls out its SafeCam initiative. The program encourages residents and businesses to register their security cameras with the department online, creating a map of available footage.

“In addition to canvassing the neighborhood and knocking on 50 doors and asking, ‘Do you have a camera? Is it working?’ we will have information for cameras that are registered so we can contact their owners directly,” said Karima Zedan of the police department. Between 80 and 100 people registered in the first week of the program’s implementation.

Although Center City business owners support the initiative, many say cameras are more useful after crimes occur.

“I don’t think people need to rush out and get cameras. Cameras are tools that can help investigations as additional eyes on the streets,” Paul Levy of the Center City District said. “But they’re a secondary tool. The primary tool is people in uniforms patrolling downtown. What we need is a clear, visible presence of officers on the street so people can feel safe.”

Police are working on a system to catalog how many crimes are solved via camera footage, but at least four homicides and hundreds of other cases have been cleared this way, Zedan estimates.

Cameras solved July 29 case

The surveillance footage of the July 29 attack, obtained from local businesses by Mastery Charter School officials, showed six students swarming a pedestrian, punching and kicking him. The man, 36, suffered severe jaw injuries.

“Young people often talk about things they do and Mastery generally has a pretty close network, so I’d like to think we would’ve found out eventually, but having cameras made it much easier and quicker,” said CEO Scott Jordan, who sent an apology letter out to the community.


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