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Local Press does a hack story on the NOLA video camera initiative

By May 23, 2004web-tech

This Times Picayune article portrays the City of New Orleans’ effort to deploy surveillance cameras in a bad light, but then you’d expect that sort of slipshod reporting from the TP. Notice how the article fails to suggest any conceivable possibility that the cameras would be good.

First, they seize on a single court ruling from a district court, which therefore has no precedential value (but this is too difficult a concept for most reporters to grasp), as proof that the cameras won’t be helpful in securing convictions. So, according writer and government affairs expert James Varney, the City should now do what? Scrap the program? “Well, we thought the cameras would be an innovative way to fight crime,” said Mayor Nagin in a hastily called news conference, “but it appears that one judge disallowed videotape evidence of two suspects blazing away with assault rifles at a city car wash and so we’ve decided to abandon the whole idea.”

That would make the ACLU happy. As the article points out, Joe Cook, the local ACLU Executive Director, is against the City’s effort to use cameras (big shock there, huh?). Cook observed of the City’s camera initiative: “They’re being very secretive about the whole thing, when the truth is it’s going to be very expensive and it doesn’t work.”

I don’t know what he means by “doesn’t work.” If he means the cameras won’t be effective in deterring crime, well then perhaps he’s right. That is, if courts are going to rule that the video evidence is not admissible even when they capture clear pictures of people blazing away with assualt rifles then criminals may not be deterred. Perhaps, they’ll actually carefully position themselves under the cameras and execute people, knowing that the evidence won’t be admissible. Nope, I’m sure the cameras won’t have any deterrent effect whatsoever.

Perhaps Mr. Cook wants to argue, as he has in the past, that deployment of the cameras in public places is some sort of infringement of constitutional rights. Of course, Mr. Cook is not a constitutional scholar, not that you have to be a constitutional scholar to have opinions about the law. It helps to be a lawyer, though, which Mr. Cook is not. But, I’m probably being too hard on Mr. Cook. I’m sure his interpretation of the Constitution is completely sound and devoid of any bias so we should just do whatever he thinks is best.

Another nice angle to the Times Picayune story is the suggestion that the City is paying too much for the cameras, and not deploying them properly. Initially, the City hoped to put out 1,000 cameras and now it appears that only 240 will be deployed. And, not all of them will be deployed in ‘high crime’ areas, according to the Times Picayune article. Apparently, some will be used to try to thwart terrorism. Oh, the horror! How dare the City assume that terrorism should be dealt with as some sort of crime?

Give me a friggin’ break.

Since I’ve failed to contain my sarcasm, let me make sure I explain my real problem with the TP story. I don’t have a problem with reporting that there are objections to the City’s use of surveillance cameras (of course, anything that a governmental body does is going to engender criticism from some group, especially something novel involving technology). But I do have a problem with a knee-jerk analysis that fails to take into account that the City is actually making a bold move to try to deal with a serious crime problem. It would be easy for the Mayor to just keep plodding along using old fashioned crime-fighting techniques like hiring more police officers (and what would that cost, by the way?) to combat crime. And perhaps terrorism.

It’s also easy to sit at a word-processor to criticize a government official who is trying something new. Especially if you make no effort to try to grasp the rationale for the new initiative. But, actually making tough decisions (as Mayor Nagin is doing) and trying to carry them out is the hard part. And it doesn’t help when you have arrant fools writing for the local newspaper who are incapable of providing useful information to the populace. Unless you count ‘fear-mongering’ and ‘nay-saying’ as useful information.


P.S. If you appreciate these kinds of observations, you might want to read this as well.

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