The Listening Post Asks: Do Security Cameras Make You Feel More or Less Safe?

Mar 1, 2018

New Orleans's $40 million public safety plan means as many as 1,500 security cameras are going up around the city, potentially making it one of the most surveilled places in the country. The cameras send live footage to the Real Time Crime Monitoring Center, where NOPD monitors feeds around the clock.  

By now you’ve probably notices some of these new cameras flashing their blue and red lights in your neighborhood.  If the next step in the security plan is implemented, you’ll also see street-facing security cameras (connected to the live-monitoring system) at every place licensed to sell alcohol.  This month, we set out to talk with New Orleanians about their thoughts on these new cameras.

We asked:

  1. Do more cameras make you feel more safe or less safe? Why?
  2. What's a place you go to or pass by often where you've noticed a new camera? How does the camera change how you act?

We received an impressive number of text message responses, many of which were very detailed.  Here are some of our favorites:

  1. It doesn’t change how safe i feel, but does give hope that it crime occurs it can be captured. Unless the cameras are constantly monitored with police response, having unattended cameras doesn't affect safety.
  2. They’re not preventative for crime. They only record the act. I know first hand how little cameras deter criminal behavior. They should use that money to hire more cops on the street. I think this is a bad decision.
  3. Neither. It seems like crimes caught on camera are just as likely not to be solved. I’d like to see data, not from other cities but from our own, about whether the presence of cameras either deters or raises the percentage of solved cases. If not, spend the money on communities in need.
  4. I think they can make things safer, but I worry about long-term use of the system. It sounds silly, but 1,500 cameras in the wrong hands could lead in dark directions. Who watches the watchmen and women?

On February 23rd, our reporting took us to City Hall for the “Smash Surveillance Fiesta,” hosted by immigrant rights group the Congress of Day Laborers and Black workers’ rights group Stand with Dignity.  Members brought about a dozen homemade piñatas shaped and painted to look like security cameras.  As the children took turns swinging at the piñatas, the adult took turns addressing the crowd.

Arely Westley, an organizer with LGBTQ organization BreakOut!, explained her concerns. “What we need is jobs, housing, and education, and there’s no way we’re going to have a safety city if we don’t create jobs, housing, and education for our youth and for the community in general,” she said.  “We maybe don’t have the power to get them to give up the cameras, but we want to have the control to see where the information is going to.”

Mario, a member of the Congress of Day Laborers who had led a law enforcement division when he lived in Honduras, addressed the crowd in Spanish. “We’re here representing our communities, for the safety of our communities, because of the heightened fear they will feel if they activate cameras to surveil our people, cameras that we don’t yet know what they’ll be used for,” he said.

As we spoke with New Orleanians this month, we heard lots of questions about the surveillance plan, and we didn’t have time to answer all of them on the show.  Visit http://lpnola.atavist.com/cameras for answers and for some great quotes that didn’t make it into the show.  

The Listening Post project seeks to establish a two-way conversation with the citizens of New Orleans. Participants can both contribute thoughts and commentary about important issues in their neighborhoods, and also receive news and information important to local communities. Join the conversation by calling or texting "Hello" to (504) 303-4348.

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