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No Smiles for These Cameras

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Mass surveillance is about to increase in Denver. What began on Colfax Avenue is about to spread.

Last year, police turned to cameras to keep better tabs on an area known for drug trafficking. The cameras were placed on East Colfax Avenue, starting at Grant Street and stretching east about three blocks. The wireless cameras are moved from time to time to battle offenders who learn to skirt their specific locations.

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Now police want to emulate Baltimore’s program.

Baltimore police – in the forefront of the approach – have spent about $8 million on their surveillance camera system and are planning on adding more. The police department in Denver is trying to determine how to fund a similar program here. The surveillance cameras will cost at least a million dollars, and it could take several months before police start using the technology, Martinez said.

Denver ACLU director Mark Silverstein responds:

“A program that assigns police officers to monitor public spaces through video surveillance has the potential to erode privacy, inhibit freedom and chill public expression in public places, with little or no benefit in reduced criminal activity,” said Mark Silverstein, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado. Silverstein said the benefits to law enforcement are illusory. “If the cameras deter crime, (the criminals) simply move it to another place, potentially prompting a call for even more cameras and more surveillance.”

Like Silverstein, I think the money would be better spent on hiring more police officers in high crime areas. The question is:

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“Are the cameras worth the cost in dollars, in the missed opportunity to hire additional beat officers or in the diminished enjoyment of freedom, privacy and spontaneity?”

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