1984. Gattaca. Minority Report. Redlands?

Posted January 7, 2010 in News

Do you ever get the feeling that someone is watching you? If so, you may need meds. Or you just might be in the City of Redlands. 


It is where law enforcement has placed 50 video surveillance cameras around the city and hopes to double the amount by this summer. The $628,000 project was established to aid in law enforcement and assist in traffic control. But the question of privacy is hardly being discussed. Many Redlanders have expressed their contentment with what they describe as a new “sense of security.” 


City spokesman Carl Baker says, “I’m not aware of any organized groups against the cameras. If there are any individuals against them they haven’t made themselves known in a big way. For that matter I haven’t heard anyone voice any negative feedback.”


But it prompts the question: In a city with little serious crime, is this type of monitoring even necessary? 


According to Redlands Police Chief Jim Bueermann, it is. With budget cuts affecting the city, 18 police vacancies have opened up. Technology can offset the manpower shortage and lend a helping hand, er, eye to law enforcement. Bueermann explains that most of the surveillance was set up to catch speeding motorists, rowdy kids and skateboarders, the main concerns of this bedroom community. 


“Ed Hales Park and Mariposa Elementary [School] have had a lot of trespassing and vandalism,” Baker says. “Skateboarders have damaged benches and parks. Smoking is also a problem in prohibited places. The cameras here have speakers (“It’s like God talking to you,” Bueermann’s said in published reports) and warn those individuals that what they are doing is against the law. Once the dispatcher comes on they usually move along.” 


That’s right, not only do these cameras record in real time, but they also zoom, pan, tilt and have audio capabilities. So, does this create a sense of security or a sense of intrusion? 


The Redlands Citizens Privacy Council was established to help advise the police department on surveillance policy—though, according to its own bylaws, it appears restricted to making findings and recommendations.


Council members “have open access to come to dispatch centers to make certain [cameras] aren’t being used improperly,” says Baker. In addition, anyone in the community can voice their concerns every second Thursday of the month at council meetings.


Also, despite Baker saying he’s unaware of any camera naysayers, Privacy Council member David Sanchez, in a published news report, has gone on the record saying some fellow council members “feel a bit uneasy that the RPD is watching mostly honest citizens going about their daily lives.”


The ACLU has weighed in on the debate, arguing that such surveillance violates our freedoms of speech and privacy.


For instance, would one feel as compelled to partake in a protest knowing video cameras are rolling? Would one refrain from casual and loose conversation because they are walking on a sidewalk being monitored? Valid questions indeed. 


“Having to install cameras that monitor every move a person makes, where they go, when they leave, who they are with unquestionably compromises our right to privacy and right to go about our daily lives from government observation and intrusion,” explains Peter Bibring, staff attorney for ACLU of Southern California.


But these cameras can help fight crime, right? Not really, says the ACLU. Claims by Redlands police notwithstanding, a 2007 ACLU report concluded that “little consideration is given to the significant evidence demonstrating that camera surveillance is ineffective, especially when compared with other alternatives.”


Redlands’ $628,000 investment may or may not necessarily be money well spent. To illustrate, authorities in the U.K. had 100 cameras in operation in 1990; that increased to 4.2 million cameras by 2008 with over $1 billion spent between 1995 and 2005 alone. So what did British officials conclude? The cameras had virtually no impact. Yup, according to the British Home Office, benefits totaled to a whopping zero! No reduction in crime rates and no benefits to public safety.


“In cases of public surveillance cameras, the intrusion impact on privacy is just unjustified when study after study show that video cameras don’t measurably deter crimes,” Bibring says.


Has Redlands done their homework? Of course, if the city wants to crack down on pesky skaters maybe that $628,000 will come to good use. 


“No serious crime other than kids skateboarding,” Bibring says. “I have to give points for honesty to [Redlands Police Chief] Bueermann because that is what public surveillance cameras work for. Not for serious or violent crimes.” 


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