Why not camera-up the Village in the Forest?

In the wake of 9/11, Chief Weitzel’s predecessor made a similar suggestion. At the time, the concern was identifying the terrorists amongst us. The village board duly considered and rejected the idea. In the decade and a half since, much blood has been shed, treasure spent, and liberty lost pursuing safety.

The sense of safety is mostly mental, the more we are told by “authority” figures that we have reason to be fearful, the greater grows our concern. There is a thin line between the sincere Chicken Little and the huckstering wolf crier. The latter exploits the darkest corners of our psyches and, perhaps, pitches a gadget that will lighten the load (and our wallets).

My concerns about installing cameras are twofold: will they make an appreciable difference? And, is this an appropriate and healthy message for and about our village?

Chicago has countless blue-light and other cameras. A review of the data published by Northwestern University concluded that: “In any event, there is no compelling evidence that Chicago’s surveillance camera system significantly contributes to deterring crime, or to arresting or prosecuting wrongdoers. (Northwestern Journal of Technology and Intellectual Property, “Chicago’s Video Surveillance Cameras: A Pervasive and Poorly Regulated Threat to Our Privacy,” 2013, p. 55)

“First, numerous studies by independent scholars have concluded that video surveillance cameras do not reduce violent crime, and only in limited circumstances reduce property crime (such as in parking garages).” (Ibid p. 55)

“Second, Chicago’s cameras have contributed to a very small fraction of all arrests. The city asserts that its camera network led to 4,500 arrests in the 4.5 years from 2006 through May 2010. But this is less than 1 percent of the 646,255 police arrests in just the three years from 2006 through 2008.” (Ibid p. 56)

“Third, Chicago’s cameras have not been valuable to prosecutors in securing convictions: Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, said footage from the surveillance cameras is regularly reviewed in criminal investigations. 

“When it comes to blue-light cams, they almost never capture the crimes that we review,” Daly said. “No one I spoke to here can recall a case where we utilized these cameras to gain a conviction.” (Ibid p. 56)

Cameras don’t appear to give much bang for the buck in way of prevention or prosecution, but they do nick away at our individual freedom. Big Brother will be watching us every time we enter or leave town. To what end?

Which brings me to my second, and larger, concern.

 The Landmark recently reported that: “Riverside reports 4th straight dip is crime totals: Serious incidents at lowest level since 2007” (News, March 7). So if crime is declining, why is our police chief promoting the idea that we need to surveil our borders? 

Not too long ago a group of residents seriously put forth the idea that we should have gates at every entrance. How about a wall? The country is awash with creeping authoritarianism.

Chief Weitzel is often in and on the media issuing dire warnings disproportionate to his standing as the head of our small town police force. Is thought ever given to how this makes our village look to the outside world? A better message would be: “Crime is down; I’m becoming obsolete.” And fade quietly into the forest.

Hopefully the village board will treat this idea with the collective shrug it deserves. 

Kevin F. Smith


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