Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Boston Security Cameras Keeping Streets Safe

Boston Security CamerasIn hundreds of cities around the country, local law enforcement have been using security cameras to catch people breaking the speed limit and, even more recently, running red lights. Well, the officers in Boston, Massachusetts are taking this idea one step further. Boston Police have installed cameras all over the city that are capable of detecting the discharge of firearms.

Financed by the Federal Government, these cameras are being placed under bridges, on thoroughfares and around bustling shopping districts as part of an anti-terrorism campaign. A camera was installed last week in East Milton Square in Boston, seven cameras, with the hopes of two more added this year, have been set up in Quincy and in Everett 16 to 20 cameras are trained on the port, major road arteries and industrial complexes, all of which have been deemed potential terrorist targets.

Police in all the above communities wish to link their camera feeds in hopes of keeping an eye on towns and cities outside their jurisdiction. Police also say that the technology will help officers track a suspect fleeing from one town to another.

But with everything that involves government and security, there is a fair share of skepticism, especially from the Civil Liberties Union. Carol Rose, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, says, "We're building a system that creates a net of surveillance over everyone in the Boston Metropolitan Region. It's a net of surveillance that allows local police and federal agents to monitor and record our every movement without any oversight of how the information will be used now or in the long run."

There are a grand total of nine communities that are a part of the new camera program: Boston, Quincy, Winthrop, Cambridge, Somerville, Brookline, Everett, Chelsea and Revere. All nine of these communities have been deemed by the federal government to be at a high risk for terrorist attacks. These areas make up one of 64 areas around the nation that come under a program called the "Urban Area Security Initiative", a program receiving $832.5 million this fiscal year from Homeland Security.

"We focus these grants on the cities that face the highest risk," said Homeland Security spokesman Chris Ortman. "We continue to improve our risk assessment tools to ensure we are calculating these risks in the smartest and most efficient ways possible." Lieutenant Bob Gillan, Supervisor of the Quincy Police Homeland Security Unit, believes that the cameras will help officers quickly figure out the problem and what kind of help to give. "A picture is worth a thousand words," he said. "If we can see it that much faster, we know what's going on."

Officers in almost all of the cities have reported that they have met with little or no resistance to the cameras. Gillan reports that the cameras in place do not pick up anything that the average passerby can not see. "Anything we see is completely public." Other stories from different cities have reported the value in the cameras. Milton Police Chief Richard Wells noted how cameras in Brookline assisted in the quick capture of two rape and kidnapping suspects last year.

However, programs like this have seen bumpy spots in the road. The program in Cambridge came to a halt last year when the City Council unanimously voted against activating the cameras. Twelve cameras in Brookline are only allowed to operate at night, a compromise reached after a Town Meeting passed a resolution to take them down.

Boston Security Cameras like these, and the ones all over the country, do have an immense potential to assist Police Officers in keeping local streets safe from not only local criminals but also potential terrorist attacks. While the privacy issues noted with the cameras do hold their own weight of concern, I believe the potential good of the cameras far outweighs the potential bad.

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