NOPD Crime Cameras: Simply Surveillance or Artificial Intelligence?

If the local government in New Orleans cares about the city’s public safety, they need to put up more crime cameras to increase their effectiveness. Currently, the city is compromising their chance to catch lawbreakers, increase revenue, and improve public safety by reducing the number of both crime and traffic cameras. They must put more resources into putting up more cameras because, while officers can’t stop everyone, a camera can be there 24/7. Crime cameras provide specific anti-crime benefits, but respecting individuals’ civil liberties and individual privacy might be limiting the effectiveness of the cameras.

Liana Elliott, a Tulane University undergraduate with a masters from USC in urban planning and public policy, has a unique perspective on the recent controversy over the crime cameras possible infringement of individual privacy. She is an expert in strategic social policy and planning, and focuses on organizing sustainable and affordable community development, historic preservation, public health policy, and community revitalization.

“If the federal government comes down and tells us that we have the right to, and should, tap into everyone’s systems and use the information for whatever the f**k we want to, including identifying people that we just feel like deporting, I think we need to shut the whole thing down. I think we need to say ‘Nope, we’re not doing that.’”

At the last public safety meeting with Mayor LaToya Cantrell and all the police chiefs, Liana couldn’t help but think back to another meeting she recently attended: the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign meeting that focused on fair treatment and immigration crisis. Like many others, she sympathizes with these minority groups and struggles with the concept of mass surveillance because the technology reflects a dystopian society. But, at the same time, Liana recognizes the benefits of the accuracy of crime cameras as opposed to eye witnesses, which prove to be consistently unreliable. Liana’s urban planning instincts say “eyes on the street” is a good thing, but she is also scared that the system could very quickly foster a creepy “Big Brother” society. The key to these crime cameras seems to be finding different ways to use them more productively to make New Orleans a better city. The evidence shows that with enough cameras, and an adept police force, resources dedicated to responding to what’s on the cameras, and also significant resources towards actively monitoring them at all times, they can be extremely successful.

The controversy centers around the notion of individual’s expectation to privacy. On one hand, no one has a reasonable expectation of privacy when they’re in public, but if the technology allows people profiling via the cameras all over the city, it could get out of control. Is smoking marijuana while walking down the street and suddenly running into a cop as you turn the corner so different than getting caught by a policeman monitoring camera footage behind a desk? The New Orleans Police Department is significantly understaffed, which makes it difficult to spread out and cover all of the streets across the city. The crime camera program was designed to be implemented strategically to create a livable and safe community. The city of New Orleans seems to be struggling with this concept, as the citizens are clearly having trouble trusting their promise to not abuse their surveillance powers.

Jeff Asher, a consultant and crime analyst, used to serve as a crime analyst for the city of New Orleans, but now works for The New Orleans Advocate and WWLTV. Asher thinks that we need to reevaluate the location of the cameras, NOPD usage, and the system’s overall effectiveness. He thinks that the NOPD “needs to be able to monitor [the cameras] in real time, and then respond to them in real time.” The real-time crime center in New Orleans is located downtown and running 24/7. City officials and public safety leaders, announced the opening last November as part of a forty-million-dollar citywide public safety improvement plan. Still, there are definitely some cameras in the French Quarter, but instead of being monitored 24/7, they’re being checked after crimes occur.

“Public safety continues to be our top priority. The best way to continue to fight crime is to improve manpower, crime deterrence and our apprehensions with investments in technology and visibility. Our Real Time Crime Center will help us to make better-informed decisions in real-time during an emergency. Our goal is to not only make New Orleans safe, but to also make New Orleans feel safe.”

-Mitch Landrieu

But do community members feel more or less safe with these cameras? The city officials love the new program because for now, it means they can catch more criminals. “We’re still encouraging people to put [the crime cameras] up because, for now, the benefits outweigh the costs, and the dangers are not tangible or immediate enough that anybody is thinking about repercussions,” Liana said.

However, it is clearly extremely important that city leaders and NOPD proceed with caution and regularly check-in and re-asses their use of surveillance powers and the effectiveness of these cameras.

COVER PHOTO: Nola.com

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