xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Our View: Surveillance cameras in Westminster worth a look

The Westminster Police Department is in the process of getting more eyes out on the street to fight crime, in a manner of speaking, with plans to purchase security cameras and place them in downtown areas that see a lot of calls for service. Chief Thomas Ledwell said the cameras could be a “force multiplier” for the department.

While we are not fans of growing government surveillance and we point out that security cameras can create unforeseen issues like misuse, we also concede that Councilman Tony Chiavacci was correct when he noted that citizens’ expectation of privacy has diminished as technology has improved and expanded, and that the cameras can play a legitimate role in law enforcement.

Advertisement

Ledwell said he sees three main benefits: 1. Deterrence, as some may choose not to commit crimes in areas with cameras; 2. Investigation, allowing police to go back and examine footage after a crime as occurred; and, 3. Real-time viewing, in which a live feed would be monitored and could greatly improve response time. “It’s not just reactive, it’s going to become proactive,” Chiavacci, chairman of Westminster’s Public Safety Committee, told us.

What kind of cameras will be purchased is still under consideration and is “budget-dependent.” Cameras are becoming more sophisticated all the time and can now include bullet-proof casing, night-vision capability, motion detection, and automatic zoom. Ledwell said they are looking at all options, including cameras that offer 180-degree rotation, are mobile, offer clearer images of faces or vehicle tags, and are equipped with infrared capability to record crime that occurs at night.

Advertisement

If this is going to happen, it’s important the investment be made in quality equipment. We’ve all seen grainy pictures from robberies at banks or convenient stores by perpetrators rendered unrecognizable even to their own parents thanks to the dismal display. And what good would cameras be that don’t produce a good picture at night, when crime is more likely to occur?

Chiavacci said the council would rely on the police department to choose camera locations with Ledwell making use of data and analytics as well as feedback from officers. Certainly, the cameras need to be in prominent public spots, the better to deter crime, and they should not be able to view private property, where even in 2019 most of us have an expectation of privacy.

Once purchased and placed, it is possible everything will work just as Ledwell hopes. Perhaps some would-be criminals will think twice because of the worry of being caught on camera. Perhaps some leads will be developed and perpetrators apprehended with the help of cameras identifying witnesses, suspects and getaway cars. And perhaps police and emergency medical services will be able to be dispatched the moment an assault or suspected drug deal is spotted on a monitor, resulting in treatment, if needed, and/or a quick arrest.

The benefit will have to be weighed against the cost — like procurement, maintenance will not be cheap, and monitors need to be, well monitored. It also must be understood that those being deterred from committing crimes in one public spot can always move to another. And not everyone, even law-abiding citizens, will be in favor. We could have a strange bedfellows situation in which Carroll countians who aren’t necessarily supporters of the ACLU will agree with that group’s position on surveillance cameras — that they haven’t been proven effective, that they are susceptible to abuse, that they lack limits or controls and that they can have a chilling effect on public life.

Still, the mere existence of cameras should at least make people feel safer, and perception of crime has been higher than actual crime in Westminster. Reduced fear could have not only a positive psychological effect, but could result in an economic impact, too, with more people willing to patronize downtown businesses after dark.

So while we’re mindful of the Ben Franklin quote, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety,” we are in favor of at least seeing what effect increased surveillance has on crime in Westminster.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement