Take a walk in the city or ride public transit and you can expect to be caught on camera.
Gradually, we’re trading off our privacy for the sense of security provided by surveillance cameras, but according to a report out Friday, it’s a false sense of security.
The report, published by Queen’s University’s Surveillance Camera Awareness Network, suggests that despite the rapid growth of surveillance, “there is little or no evidence that surveillance deters crime.” The report adds to a growing body of evidence that surveillance measures don’t work.
That hasn’t prevented increased monitoring measures in our city though.
Calgary Transit has more than 300 video cameras monitoring LRT stations. The city’s Traffic Information System has more than 50 cameras at intersections. The city also has a number of cameras in crime hot spots, mostly in the downtown core and East Village.
Add Google’s Street View and there’s not an inch of the city left unmonitored.
I don’t feel any safer. I don’t ride public transit or walk in certain neighbourhoods at night and camera surveillance won’t change that.
According to Alberta’s privacy commissioner, Frank Work, my feelings are justified. He argues the cameras don’t prevent crime but instead displace it. He also says since most crimes take place at night, it’s often too dark for authorities to identify suspects.
His main concern is that cameras give a false sense of security.
In San Francisco, a recent study revealed cameras have had little effect on violent crime. Homicides decreased within 76 metres of the cameras, but killings rose between 76 and 152 metres away. There was no change in other violent crimes rates.
Similar results were found in the United Kingdom where the London Metropolitan Police found less than one crime a year is solved for every 1,000 closed-circuit cameras.
Outdated and poorly maintained cameras also reduce the effectiveness of surveillance according to Leo Knight, a former Calgary police officer who runs Paladin Security.
Misuse of surveillance tools is common. Police in both Tuscaloosa, Ala., and the Midlands in Britain have been caught taking closeups of women’s breasts.
A surveillance expert at Carleton University said cameras are often installed after high-profile crimes.
Solid evidence should govern whether surveillance measures are used, not emotional responses following highly publicized crimes. Public dollars and forgoing our rights to privacy is too high a price to pay for ineffective crime control.
Adrienne Beattie is a Calgary-born writer who has covered urban issues since 2001 and has an English degree from the University of Calgary.