How Many Government Cameras are too many?

Photo by PoPville flickr user ekelly80

Yesterday TBD reported:

The District of Columbia currently has a network of around 50 red-light cameras and 30 speed cameras, nabbing thousands of drivers for traffic violations while putting millions of dollars into city coffers.

The D.C. police are hoping to install smaller, more mobile cameras in neighborhoods around town, catching drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks, block the box at intersections, or even fail to fully stop at stop signs, among other potential violations.

If you add in the crime cctv cameras, well, that’s a lot of cameras around town. Do you feel that these cameras (either crime or traffic enforcement cameras) have been effective? At what point, if any, do you think there will be too many cameras?

Do you support the addition of more cameras to catch traffic offenders who “fail to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks, block the box at intersections, or even fail to fully stop at stop signs”?

Would you support the addition of more CCTV cameras in hopes preventing street crimes?

Are these two (street crime/traffic enforcement) totally different issues that should not be mixed into one discussion?

If you object to more cameras is it because of privacy concerns or something else? Where do you think the balance between privacy and the public good rests?

Photo by PoPville flickr user sciascia

41 Comment

  • Every time my friend from VA/MD come to DC they get at least one ticket! They are not reckless driver, but DC is not easy to navigate into, they way the streets are described, it is easy to get lost or even to not see a red light! I believe they have enough traffic cameras and could need some more crime camera, like in the intersection of N capitol & florida ave nw.

    • While the second part of what you said is true, the chief isn’t interested in adding more cameras. Supposedly, they get shot at or otherwise destroyed. Of course, this kind of begs the question as to why a $20k camera isn’t encased in bulletproof glass. Take a hint from the local “restaurants”.

      On the other hand, they can maybe train a new recruit for $20k or so. There’s some kind of trade off, obviously. The question is more cops vs. more cameras — when is one more valuable than the other? I’d say the above intersection should have one or the other — and not just some cruiser hanging out in the Wendy’s lot. Lame. Get uniforms to stand on N Cap / NY Ave and N Cap / FL 24/7. I see cars, but I never see cops on foot.

      On the other hand, Wendy’s has never been so safe. Ah, well apportioned tax dollars at work.

      • i see cops on foot at that bus stop pretty regularly.

      • It might cost $20k to train a new recruit, but you have to pay the recruit a salary too. I assure you maintenance for a camera is a lot less.

        Traffic/Speed cameras and CCTV cameras in high crime areas are just another tool in the aresenal of the police. They are a force multiplier that allow fewer cops to cover a larger area. They should not be regarded as a replacement for police, but as a tool to make them more effective. In some cases, the installation of a camera can also act as a deterrent (and to capture evidence of a crime).

        I say the more the merrier. As long as one is in a public area, they are subject to observation/photography (police/press/photographers/whatever).

        As far as red light and speed cameras go, I think they are more effective as a revenue tool than a safety tool. Once drivers learn their location, they will just slow down in that area and just speed up after. Unless they can be everywhere, they are just a cash machine for the city. I appreciate all of the out of state commuters filling the coffers of the city as a sort of “tax” for traffic violators.

        (And I would LOVE a ‘block the box’ camera. Those drivers really irk me.)

    • how on earth could a driver ever not see a red light? if this is really the case your friend should consider taking the metro.

  • Crime cameras are useless and not a deterrent to crime:

    DC has never used video from a DC police crime camera in a prosecution:

    Let’s put those millions of dollars towards more police or something else that can give us real results and not just fluff.

    • From your linked article:

      “[Baumann] does say that cameras are useful for fighting crime. He says they provide an unquantifiable benefit—drug dealers, for example, prefer not to do business directly in front of a surveillance device. So when they walk one block away from the camera to deal on a different corner, they’ve lost home-turf advantage.”

      Keep in mind it is difficult to quantify deterrence as a performance measure.

      The british study in the second article discusses how police activity and prescence declined because the cameras were touted as a ‘magic bullet’. The police need to use the cameras as a force multiplier, not as a replacement for cops.

    • I am surprised at the comments. I don’t know all the answers to these questions, but here goes:

      Aren’t the cameras installed by a defense contractor such as Northrup Grumman or Lockheed Martin?

      Doesn’t the defense contractor get a cut (%) from each ticket issued? (How does that defense contractor feel about things such as gay rights? Are you happy to support defense contractors? They love the Virginia suburbs you know — the same ones most of you hate.)

      These images plus a host of other images and information can be gathered together (phone calls, etc.) — right? Old news, right?

      Well, I don’t know about you — but as I said on this post, I’m not against them, but let’s be careful.

      I think there are some short-sighted comments.

      Some think that Blackwater helped protect the Iraqis too… and now they take the law in their own hands in N. Africa, and the Egyptians suspect all the Americans of working for Blackwater… it’s quite a distrustful mess.

  • How about networked cameras with log-in credentials?

  • I’m not complaining about the cameras here already. But they’re enough.

    It was already a big step to take them on. Let’s not go hog-wild.

  • I would not be surprised to learn that a private company is subsidizing the installation and maintenance of the cameras for a fee and a cut of revenues. If that is the case; and often times it is since cash strapped municipalities can’t come up with the money to purchase equipment and maintain it, then this is nothing more than a money making exercise.

    • Yeah, the cameras cost the District nothing. Pricate companies (like Boeing) through various subsidiaries install and operate the cameras for free for a percentage (between 25-40%) of its produced revenue.

      The camera breaks or gets shot at, it costs the District nothing to replace.

      This is why they are so popular with jurisdictions. It is literally free money.

      And yes, as someone who gets caught by one once or twice a year, I think they are worthwhile and we could certainly use more. Yes they are annoying but at the end of the day, YOU were speeding and you know it.

      Anyone who doesn’t think they modifiy peoples driving behavior only need drive Connecticut from the DC Line to the beltway. That used to be a crazy race track…no more.

  • No more! My husband is terrified of these stupid things – so much so that I never let him drive in the city anymore (but of course I don’t tell him why!). For some reason he thinks it’s better to SLAM on the brakes at a yellow light than to risk getting zapped by one of the cameras. I can’t imagine what he would do if he knew they were watching him stop at stop signs or yield to peds (how would you even get people for that…?).

    • I think that the camara’s are not effective. The only thing they are good for is making money; and not for increasing safety as is claimed. Too many people slam on their brakes at yellow lights out of fear of getting ticketed (as b said above). It is already an obstacle to get through an intersection safely, now people have an additional obstacle of getting through safely and without getting a ticket. In Arizona, where I used to live, they have found the accident rate to increase at intersections with camara’s and have since then removed some of them at the most dangerous intersections. Camara’s are not the answer because they don’t have brains to decipher if the ticket was really valid. I walk almost everyday to work, and almost everytime the camara at N Capitol and Fort drive always flashes even though no one ran the light. I wonder how many of those actually issue citations.

  • I say, bring them on! As a pedestrian, I have seen so many people run through blatantly red lights and putting pedestrians at risk. I wish there was a camera at every light.

  • I say, bring them on! As a pedestrian, I have seen so many people run through blatantly red lights and putting pedestrians at risk. I wish there was a camera at every light.

    Driving has a lot of hidden costs for the city. If you’re not willing to drive responsibly, I think you should be fined and help the city pay for the infrastructure.

  • From the Post yesterday.

    “The study looked at 99 cities with populations over 200,000. It compared two periods, 2004-2008, when the most recent fatal crash data were available, and 1992-1996, a period when the 14 cities had not begun red light camera programs.

    Fatal red light crashes fell in most cities, but the rate fell 14 percent in the 48 cities without cameras and 35 percent in the 14 cities with cameras in the second period. The biggest drop in the rate of fatal crashes involving red light running was seen in Chandler, Ariz., where deaths dropped 79 percent.”

    • Anonymous: I saw that article, too. And if having the cameras saved even ONE MORE LIFE than not having them, it is well worth all the pissing & moaning from DC area drivers. The point is the speed cameras at intersections SAVE MANY LIVES. so live with ’em!!

  • More the merrier. I draw the line at the end of my property…The government can monitor the property it owns.

  • All of these closed-circuit crime cameras really should be accessible to the public. It is public space that they’re monitoring, after all, and our tax dollars are paying for these cameras. Why not open the feeds up to the public? Citizens could record the footage and report possible crimes in action.

    • I wonder if these cameras are being paid for by our tax dollars (joker suggested they weren’t). I’m not a fan of dwindling privacy, but these days, the cameras are used in shopping malls, airports and buses, so it’s not like having them in public spaces is much of a shock.

      • I think joker was referring to the traffic cameras. The cameras I’m talking about are the police/Homeland Security/whatever crime cameras. Those almost have to come from tax dollars. And they should therefore be accessible to the public. I have a feeling that if someone fought hard enough, they could make it happen.

  • Speed cameras are fine, but put them in the right places, where a large proportion of drivers go well above a safe speed.

    DO NOT put them on roads where the speed limits are artificially low, like the ones on New York Avenue east of Bladensburg and on 395. There is zero reason for the speed limit to be so low on those two streets/highways, and the cameras are there solely to make money.

    • Like the speed cameras on Connecticut Avenue just north of Chevy Chase Circle. While I won’t argue against the 35 MPH speed limit, if their true goal is safety, there are many more effective traffic calming methods that could be used there to slow drivers down. It’s all about money, almost all the time.

  • 600,000 cameras is probably too many.

    I’d donate the exterior of my house and my bandwidth to the PD if they wanted to mount them there.

    Anyone know what the best consumer grade IP outdoor low light camera is? I’d like to keep an eye on the street and alley at night.

    • When we asked police if they would put a camera to monitor the alley behind the house because there’d been an uptick in crime they said they couldn’t afford to do that, which makes me wonder about the assertion that cameras don’t cost anything.

      In regard to camera sources (they don’t have ratings but you might start by looking up what they have) has a large selection.

  • Not sure about block-the-box and failure-to-yield cameras. Red light running and speeding are pretty cut and dried violations.

    Whether the other two situations deserve tickets seems less so. Was that pedestrian waiting to cross or standing on the corner waiting for a cab (or talking on the cell phone)? There’s a bit of a judgment call for the driver.

    And, annoying as many block-the-boxers are, who hasn’t occasionally blocked the box by accident. Like when you are stopped behind an SUV as the second car at a light and the light turns green and you have no reason to suspect you’ll be caught in the intersection — until you are. I’d like a cop in person to make judgments about who should get a ticket.

    p.s. Please don’t flame me. I do try to be a good driver on the few occasions when I drive.

  • I don’t mind the traffic cameras, DC has enough though. I would definitely like to see an improvement at cross walks, whether it be cameras or flashing lights.

  • I want cameras that can ID bicycles that run red lights.

    • Fair enough. I have no problem registering my bike,putting a plate on the back,and even carrying insurance. Just like I do for my motorcycle.

      But realise,that once I do all this,I’ll be a ‘real’ road user,just like you. And you’ll have to treat me with the same respect that you treat other vehicles.

  • I’m all for more traffic lights and speed cameras, especially in heavy pedestrian areas. The cameras have several benefits such as causing people to slow down (I reckon quite a few of those either getting tickets or crashing at intersections are not maintaining a safe/legal speed) and increasing revenue for the city (although I don’t agree with the NY Ave/Bladensburg light).

    I got dinged by the New Hampshire speeding camera that is right next to a park, which is the type of cameras that need to be installed — ones that increase public safety. Other places to install them would be around schools, 7th & H St NW where everyone still makes illegal turns, and along major streets with few pedestrian crossings (like New Hampshire/Sherman & Otis and Georgia Ave & Otis).

    Crime cameras are another subject. I believe their main use is to deter crime, so perhaps they should be mobile and used to blanket areas that have seen a recent uptick in crime (think back to all the shootings in petworth towards the end of last year). Of course, these cameras have to be deployed as a compliment to an increased police presence in the area.

  • Bring on the cameras! Cameras are both a great way to enforce traffic laws (making our streets safer) and a tool for the city to bring in much needed money.

    I particularly support efforts to stop the box blocking that plagues much of downtown. There are too many intersections in this city that become major traffic jams because selfish people inch their way into intersections at the end of lights making it impossible for any other cars to pass.

    Traffic laws have a dual purpose, promoting safety and reducing traffic. Blocked boxes create traffic for blocks and reduce the efficiency of our economy by slowing buses, cabs, deliveries, commuters, etc.

  • While I agree that blocking the box is rampant and quite frustrating, I think it’s kind of an iffy thing to use cameras for. Though I do wish people would stop honking at me when I stop at a green light because there’s no space past the intersection.

    In terms of speed cameras, there are better ways of reducing traffic speed because, as mentioned before, cameras only get people to slam their brakes right before the camera and then speed up after (interestingly, I’ve noticed that people will slow down to a crawl, about 10-15 *below* the speed limit just for the benefit of the camera – worst offenders of this are people who were previously going the fastest). I think GGW had a post about this – things like pop out curbs and traffic circles are good for smaller streets.

  • I have no problem with the cameras for traffic enforcement. Follow the rules of the road and you won’t get a ticket.

    In fact, I think more of them would be a good thing. Many people note that it often causes drivers to slam on the brakes and then resume speeding; I find this very frustrating, and it’s because the cameras are at one location with no other enforcement measures before or after. Sprinkle them all up and down 16th street for example, and you would actually get greater overall compliance with the speed limit I would think.

  • How do you quantify “work” or not work with respect to these cameras. They catch people breaking the law and put money into the city budget. Even if the camera does not “work” to stop red light runners, speeders, etc. it IS still working to put money into the city budget. If it does “work” to stop speeding and red light running, then we get less money but the streets are safer. I’d say its a win-win, put them up everywhere.

    Seriously, what is the down side? Your idiot friends from the suburbs who are SOOOO confused by the DC streets (laid out in a feakin’ grid) that the run a red light have to contribute to the DC budget. That is A-ok with me.

  • Across the entire region, how many of all sorts of cameras wired together on a big computer network for authorities to use is too many?

  • I have no problem with red light cameras or speed cameras. The only times I’ve gotten tickets from the cameras are when I was blatantly breaking the speed limit. I’ve never gotten a red light ticket. Know why? Because 99% of the time I drive the speed limit, and as such when the light turns yellow I have ample time to stop.

    I also don’t mind the CCTV cameras. They don’t peer into my private life, and my public life does not involve being a criminal.

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