The planned replacement of a defective camera at the city marina appears to have stirred some residents to action on a subject that has been a smoldering hot topic for some time now. The idea of placing surveillance cameras on public rights of way was proposed several years ago in Gulfport, but it has never had the support necessary to get off the ground. What's the deal?
First off, this is a very controversial subject. Public opinion is split on the idea, but I think it's fair to say that a lot of people are opposed to the idea of having the government watch their every move as they go about their business on public streets and sidewalks. This is something very different than cameras placed for the security of a specific facility. People understand and even expect facilities to be under surveillance, but American society has not yet completely accepted the idea of being watched while on public land.
The other reason this is potentially controversial in Gulfport has to do with the cultural differences between ours and neighboring communities. Most supporters have suggested that cameras be placed along 49th Street because of its perceived higher crime. I just hate to think of the negative impact that might have on the residents of the Child's Park neighborhood (which has a predominately minority population) who sometimes express a distrust of the Gulfport authorities. Our community policing efforts absolutey require the support of that community, and I am hesitant to embark on any projects which might undermine their support.
In spite of these controversial issues, I am not opposed to the use of public surveillance cameras. I know they can be very valuable in detecting, preventing, and investigating crimes and disorder problems. I would, however, demand that public input, as well as input from neighboring communities, be included in any policy development and decisions on where cameras are to be placed.
Of course, controversy is not the only obstacle. Cost is another issue entirely. An effective system requires high-resolution, low-light cameras that are weather-proof and capable of remote pan, tilt, and zoom. It requires wireless connectivity so that the video feeds can be viewed by staff members (or the public) from the Internet. It requires security features to keep the cameras from being stolen or vandalized. And finally, it requires trained and dedicated people to monitor the video feeds. All things considered, even a basic system could run into six figures, which is money we just do not have.
Some ask why it is necessary to monitor the live video. The truth is that latent camera footage is not as valuable as many think. Very often, we have a clear video of a crime that has occurred at some facility or other, but we have no clue as to the identity of the suspect. Sure, this evidence is valuable if we are able to identify a perpetrator through other means, but the video alone is not worth much. The true value in a surveillance system is the ability to monitor it live and send officers to intervene when suspicious activity is observed.
Live monitoring is exactly how these systems have been successful in cities such as London and even Orlando. Injured officers on light duty watch the monitors from over a hundred cameras deployed in Orlando, and they dispatch on-duty officers whenever they see something that looks out of place. Unfortunately, Gulfport only has people in such a capacity on a sporadic basis. In order to be effective at monitoring a surveillance system, we would have to employ a crew specifically for that purpose.
So, the bottom line. . .I would love to have a public video surveillance system in Gulfport, but only if our residents and those of our neighboring cities support the concept and the considerable financial commitment that goes along with it. If this is something you are passionate about, get in touch with me and we will see what we can do about finding that support. Likewise, if you are against this idea, I'd love to hear your concerns.