Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Crime Cameras [extended]
The city's consideration to spend nearly $500,000 on 10 surveillance cameras at six locations in the city [click the picture for a map of locations] is an interesting proposal offering a glimpse into the future of policing in Winnipeg.
After this story, I've been getting interesting responses from people expressing a range of opinion on the issue, from thinking it's a great idea to questions whether the money would be better spent getting police walking the beat or if the city is rushing into something that won't pay off in the long run.
First off, it's a pilot project. It's going to last one year, and all the while, police say they'll be closely monitoring its effectiveness and if the cameras can accomplish the following six principle objectives:
1. Enhancing public safety
2. Assist in the reduction of people's fear of crime
3. Help detect crime and gather evidence
4. To assist city police in the identification of criminal suspects and activity
5. To assist in the allocation and deployment of resources
6. To help prevent and deter crime and public disorder
Police plan to measure public perception of the cameras through surveys and keep a tally of reports made by people at the camera locations.They will also look at internal measures to enhance police enforcement, like the number of calls for service the cameras generate, whether they can help in making early or timely detection if incidents, the number of calls that lead to arrests, whether the cameras can help police gather intelligence for "enforcement action" and if the footage can be used in proceedings against suspects.
From a privacy point of view, Manitoba's ombudsman's office has been involved in the police camera working group as an advisor. The ombudsman will be considering a further draft of what's called a privacy impact assessment which, according to a city hall report, has already been done or is near completion.The ombudsman's office has already raised issues about the installation should it go ahead, including whether the rationale for collecting people's personal info by camera is justifiable, and the need for the police and the city to be transparent with people and hold broad public consultations. Many neighbourhood groups and business concerns have been briefed on the project and what may happen already. Police have not moved to fully address the public yet because it still needs council approval to go ahead.
The nuts and bolts of the actual camera installation is as follows:Cameras are mounted in fixed positions at the 10 specific locations. They may either "sweep" the area by moving back and forth or be a wide-angle static picture of the area.
Remote access will allow the project manager to adjust the angles and zoom at their discretion. They will either be mounted on a city structure, a new pole, or an already-existing private structure. They'd likely need permission to do this.Images collected by the cameras are sent to wireless devices called "subscriber units."
The transmission is encrypted and encoded to prevent data hacking of the signal. The signal is then beamed to high points in the downtown and sent down a fibre-optic pipe to the police camera control centre.The computer software controls the cameras and converts the signal for viewing.
Probably most importantly, the system will not be live-monitored during the pilot project, meaning no-one's watching the footage as it comes in in real-time. Any footage will be retained for a period of 72-96 hours and then junked. The records and stored video will be managed and handled by the police department. Video will only be accessed on the start of a police investigation or "as required by law including the processing of an individual's access to information request under freedom of information laws or the freedom of health information act.
Just how a person is supposed to clear an FOI request in a maximum of four days is yet to be known. The police also reserve the right to start monitoring the camera's footage if they see fit.
The project will be staffed by two new full-time employees hired by the service - a project manager and an IT expert. Day-to-day operation will fall on the shoulders of the project manager.
It's pretty clear police are being cautious about the whole idea of crime cameras. There's good reason for this, including shelling out the cash for the equipment which may have to be sold off if the project's a disaster after a year [doubtful].
More to the point, however, is that - and the police admit as much - it's difficult to determine if a single factor of crime prevention measures can be pointed to as the cause for deterrence. The cameras only record crime. They don't come running with the cavalry when the knife's to your throat.
There is evidence though that cameras can reduce victimization of people. Implemented with other measures -and with the help of a caring community- they can contribute to a safer environment.And let's face it - $440,000 isn't $2 million, which is what Toronto spent on their latest round of 22 hard-wired cameras in their downtown and other select areas.
If you're interested in the report and wish to read it at your leisure to form your own conclusions, I'm posting it here City Camera Report for your info. [Link opens the PDF report to be discussed at city hall].
You can also find more background, and get a sense of some of the pros and cons of surveillance cameras as they grow and become more embedded with police tactics here.
There's little doubt at this point that by early January, the new eyes in the sky will get switched on. In the near future, meetings will be slated so that you get to have your say.(Just a small note - the map of the locations above is missing one.
A camera is also being proposed for Main Street and Henry Avenue. This is right near where Tim Knudsen, a 44-year-old resident of the Salvation Army's Booth Centre was killed over a cigarette recently.)
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