Heated debates have recently risen in Sacramento over whether installing security cameras in public locations will aid crime prevention or invade privacy.
A $614,694 grant from Homeland Security has made it possible for Sacramento to consider installing 32 security cameras throughout the city. In addition, the plan includes four mobile trailers with cameras to provide surveillance for large events and crowds.
Helicopters are already used to monitor large events such as New Year’s Eve, and replacing them with mobile trailers would be far more cost-effective, according to Sergeant Norm Leong of the Sacramento Police Department.
The Sacramento County American Civil Liberties Union voiced adamant objection to this proposal.
“We consider the cameras an intrusive invasion of privacy,” said Jim Updegraff, chair of the Sacramento County chapter of the ACLU. “There have been numerous studies of the effectiveness of surveillance cameras and studies in San Francisco, Calgary, Canada and London have shown they are ineffectual in reducing crimes.“
Nevertheless, on Sept. 29, the Sacramento City Council voted to accept the Homeland Security’s grant, provided that the Sacramento Police Department submits guidelines for the security cameras in response to the ACLU’s objections.
What Sacramento’s guidelines will entail is not yet clear. Even if the police department submits guidelines, Updegraff said the security cameras will still be unacceptable to the ACLU.
“The guidelines are supposed to alleviate the privacy issue,” said Updegraff. “I’m not sure how this can be done.“
The city already has some surveillance cameras set up in Del Paso Heights, and the Sacramento Police Department said they have been helpful.
“Surveillance cameras in residences and businesses are effective,” said Sergeant Norm Leong of the Sacramento Police Department. “We are able to solve crimes when we wouldn‘t have been able to otherwise.“
The ACLU said, however, that security cameras violate the basic human right to privacy and lend themselves to racial profiling.
“There is no evidence that has been presented by the city that indicates that these surveillance cameras will lower the crime rate here in Sacramento,” Updegraff told the Council.
Leong said that because many crimes are crimes of opportunity, people are less likely to commit crimes when they know cameras are present.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin J. Johnson agreed.
“Common sense tells us that there’s going to be a reduction in crime by criminals if they know they’re going to be monitored or have a chance to be filmed,” he said.
Johnson also asserted that city officials do not see the use of cameras as racial profiling, but as “criminal profiling.“
Leong stated that the Sacramento Police Department is cognizant of the concerns related to the security cameras.
“We are not monitoring peoples‘ homes,” he said. “This is geared towards main streets that are already open to the public. It’s not like we have someone sitting and monitoring the cameras. We will record footage and then go back and review it if a crime is committed.“
At this point, Davis residents do not have to worry about security cameras being installed in their city – whether they approve of them or not.
“The only cameras the city of Davis owns are used for traffic,” said Lieutenant Thomas Waltz of the Davis Police Department. “There is no plan to install any other cameras.“
SARAH HANSEL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.