Thursday, November 02, 2006

Crime Fighting Cameras, Yea or Nay

Twice within the past week or so, the Rochester Police Department has announced plans to deploy CCTV surveillance cameras at high crime locations in the City of Rochester. These locations are along Lyell Avenue and the "La Marketa" area of Avenida Clinton Norte (North Clinton Avenue). A Letter to the Editor in yesterday's D&C got me thinking, are these cameras really worth their cost? Will these cameras have any impact at all on the overall crime rate in the City? The letter reads:

Pricey cameras to watch city streets
It sounds like another million dollars of our money is about to be wasted on crime-fighting cameras, costing $24,000 each, paid for with $500,000 of our money set aside by Rochester and $250,000 of our money coming from the state Community Capital Assistance Program, not to mention whatever the cost will be to hire people to monitor the cameras, move them around and maintain them. This seems like just another attempt by officials at election time to convince voters they are tough on crime.
They emphasize that the cameras will be highly visible. Well guess what, now that the bad guys know this, they'll just move down the street or around the corner.
If Mayor Duffy or Police Chief Moore were serious about crime prevention, they wouldn't telegraph their every move — unless, of course, it was an election year.
The cost of the cameras is enough to make one "shutter."

Setting aside the obvious indications that Mr. Yodice doesn't want any of "our" (i.e., suburbanites') money going towards fighting crime in the City of Rochester, he raises a valid argument. A million dollars spent towards relatively unproven technology is a very risky venture (and we know all about risky ventures). One could make the argument that these monies would be better spent providing low-interest loans to small businesses that could then employ city residents and in so doing cut down on the hopelessness that exists in many city neighborhoods. One could make that argument, I do not.

If you happen to examine a map of violent crime in the City of Rochester, you would see that in many instances, these crimes occur directly on our City's main commercial thoroughfares. Corridors such as North Clinton, Dewey, Lyell, Jefferson, Hudson, Clifford, Arnett, North Goodman, Thurston, Genesee, etc. That leads me to believe that much of this crime is based on opportunity; opportunity that could be thwarted by the presence of these surveillance cameras. Take Dewey Avenue (north of Lexington) for instance, there is little to no crime on the residential streets that intersect with it, and yet Dewey is lined by shootings, stabbings, and assaults that have occurred over the past few years. Deployment of these cameras along this once-vibrant stretch of Dewey could cut down on such opportunity-driven crime dramatically, improving safety for pedestrians, and leading to reinvestment.

Maybe I'm over-generalizing a bit as far as the direct link between these cameras, crime reduction, and economic growth. And maybe these cameras won't have as pronounced an effect on North Clinton or Hudson Avenues (i.e., commercial corridors plagued by crime surrounded by neighborhoods overrun with crime) than they might on Dewey Avenue or Thurston Road (i.e., commercial corridors plagued by crime but surrounded by peaceful neighborhoods). But certainly these experiments which have the potential to save lives and generate investment are worth the million dollar chance that the City is giving them. Let's hope it works because, in many neighborhoods, we're running out of options.