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    husband, dad, teacher, filmmaker, writer, film geek, musician, DIYer, vegetarian, Bulldog, Buckeye, Nighthawk

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500 CCTV Cameras Planned for Atlanta

Last week, several news outlets ran stories about cities and towns installing new or expanding existing CCTV systems. One in particular caught my attention, though, because it’s in my own region and because it’s so typical of trends in surveillance.

Atlanta Surveillance “Matrix” Expected Online by Late Spring

The first thing that strikes me is the cost: $40 million. Living in north Georgia, I have heard frequent news reports about Atlanta’s budget problems the past few years – it’s no different from every other U.S. city. So where is the $40 million coming from?

Next we have the nature of the system: a vast “matrix” of cameras monitored not by human police officers or citizens, but by analytical software. Dave Wilkinson, CEO (we’ll get to that in a minute) of the Atlanta Police Foundation (we’ll get to them, too) says the analytics pick up unattended packages and fast movements. I know these types of software have become very sophisticated, but am I the only one that sees the potential for frequent misinterpretations?

Also troubling is that private businesses can voluntary jack into the system. Anyone who knows anything about computer networks will instantly see the massive security issues created by such a system.

There seems a very obvious question raised by all this: How can they justify spending $40 million on a surveillance system that will likely not deter crime to any significant degree and be only occasionally helpful in investigations – at a time when education funding has plummeted? We know beyond any doubt that better education and finding people stable employment (among other programs) DO reduce crime. This is indicate of the current mindset: long-term programs proven to produce healthier communities and lower crime are labeled as “social programs,” which has become a dirty phrase, and shunned in favor of surveillance and law enforcement that treat citizens as combatants.

Not buying the social programs argument? Okay, here’s a more obvious contradiction. The Atlanta Police Foundation’s website itself says this about crime in Atlanta:

“As a result of the work of the APF, since 2003 there has been an increase in number of police officers on the streets and an increase in the engagement of Atlanta’s business community and neighborhood residents in fighting crime. Additionally, the City has experienced a 58% reduction in the violent crime rate and a 41% reduction in crimes overall. Furthermore, Atlanta moved from being ranked the second most violent city in America to the twenty-fifth.”

And all of this progress has been achieved WITHOUT a 500-camera matrix. This also a defining trait of our time: somehow, reductions in crime are used to justify more drastic policing measures. It’s completely illogical, yet people continue to believe the mythical notion that we can achieve complete personal security.

Also troubling is that someone who is the CEO of a private company is spearheading crime programs, rather than a member of law enforcement. This is an example of yet another trend: the privatization of US policing. I don’t know much about the Atlanta Police Foundation, but my natural skepticism makes me want to investigate more. After all, they are apparently being handed an enormous amount of responsibility in one of the country’s largest cities.

Think this sort of thing is only happening in Atlanta? Think again. Here are links to articles about CCTV programs in Chicago as well as many small towns – like Lafayette, IN and Saginaw, MI – with populations as modest as 35,000 – 60,000.

Daly Defends Surveillance Cameras, Wants More

Video Surveillance Used More by Small Towns

Atlanta Surveillance “Matrix” Expected Online by Late Spring

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One Response

  1. Saginaw? Seriously?
    I know that a lot of people have a “if you aren’t doing anything wrong, then you shouldn’t mind being watched” mentality. While technically true, this is such a slippery slope.
    But how can people get over the amount of money being spent on this?? I don’t know why people can’t seem to understand that education is cure for most any societal ailment. I don’t have kids, but I gladly accept that a portion of my taxes are going towards education.

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