Neighborhood Safer with Security Cameras
Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 27, 2012 23:09
Last week, the Editorial Board of The Hoya authored an editorial titled “You’re Being Watched” (A2, Sept. 21, 2012). In it, the Board criticized the Citizens Association of Georgetown for installing private cameras to monitor public streets for crime. The editorial argued that this action was unsettling and inappropriate, despite the fact that it is completely legal.
I was joined by Patrick Gavin (COL ’13) in dissenting from that editorial. Georgetown students should not be concerned by the security cameras. Instead, students should feel safer knowing that CAG footage will help investigate and deter crime.
While last week’s editorial focuses on the discomfort we should feel about being watched, anyone can see that there is effectively no difference between this and a neighborhood watch, which patrols the area looking for crime. Many neighborhoods have volunteers who roam the streets at night to observe and report crime. In the event that a crime is committed in plain sight, the police would be forced to deal with eyewitness accounts. By implementing a camera system, CAG is simply creating a more reliable source to help the Metropolitan Police Department investigate crimes. Witnesses to a crime are capable of getting the facts wrong, and the ability to review video footage will help MPD investigations become more accurate. There is no real difference between being observed by a living person on the street and being recorded on camera. You are still being watched, only now there is less room for error in reporting.
This measure should not be placed on the same level of privacy invasion that accompanies, say, a stop-and-frisk. When you enter the public domain of the street, you allow yourself to be observed by others. These cameras are only able to see what is in plain sight. Stop-and-frisk, on the other hand, allows police to act immediately on so-called suspicious behavior in order to investigate what might be hidden. These cameras are unable to go beyond those limits and therefore should not be compared to blatantly invasive laws.
The concern that these neighbors are not subjected to the same sorts of accountability measures as government agencies should also be questioned. Illegal wiretappings and other less-than-legal government activities that have surfaced in recent years prove that government accountability is not necessarily a guarantee that power will not be abused. Even though the neighborhood group is not elected or directly accountable to the Department of Internal Affairs, the fact that CAG is not a government agency makes its use of cameras less threatening. MPD or the FBI could in theory gather this information and use vast government resources to investigate you and track you throughout the city. Government cameras on every corner would create a Big Brother state, something everyone should fear. But CAG can do none of those things. The organization’s influence and scope is limited enough that its potential for using camera footage for illegitimate purposes is dubious.
Furthermore, crime is a serious problem for the Georgetown community. While it may not affect everyone directly, we all receive those unnerving Department of Public Safety reports about someone being robbed at gunpoint only a few blocks from campus. Those crimes are unacceptable and neighbors are justifiably wary. Students should recognize that this camera installation is not a secret move by neighbors to catch students in the act of drunken and disorderly conduct. MPD is already frequently called to deal with noise pollution and drunken behavior. These cameras will not change this policing, nor will MPD care about reviewing the tapes after the fact to verify petty misdemeanors involving students. The cameras are for security — both neighbors’ and ours.
It is natural to feel uneasy about being watched as you go about your daily life, but given the circumstances, students should not be concerned that neighbors will inappropriately handle this footage. Neighbors clearly benefit from these cameras, while it is doubtful that anyone else is disadvantaged in a serious way. With that said, we should not only accept this move by CAG, but also welcome it.
KENT CARLSON is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. He is a member of the Editorial Board and Director of Personnel for The Hoya.