Police Surveillance: Go Snoop, Yourself

Police Surveillance: Go Snoop, Yourself

Summary: With New York planning to put in another 3,000 surveillance cameras and monitor all license plates coming into the island of Manhattan at 20 entrances with its Operation Sentinel, travelers and residents should not only get over any indignation at being snooped on to this extent by police, in their neighborhood(s). They instead should get with the program.

TOPICS: Hardware

With New York planning to put in another 3,000 surveillance cameras and monitor all license plates coming into the island of Manhattan at 20 entrances with its Operation Sentinel, travelers and residents should not only get over any indignation at being snooped on to this extent by police, in their neighborhood(s). They instead should get with the program. So says no less an authority than lawyer Norman Siegel, who was director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, from 1985 to 2000. Let’s back up here, first. Surveillance cameras have been a hot spot, so to speak, with New York residents since at least 1998. That’s when 11 secret cameras were discovered in Washington Square Park, unbeknownst to those who frequented it. The cameras had a social purpose though: To clean out drug dealing. Fast forward to 2006. The New York Civil Liberties Union issued a report that showed a massive growth in surveillance cameras around the city. Thousands upon thousands. Here’s a comparison showing the growth of public and private cameras in different parts of the city, from that report:

And here’s how they looked, dotted around Lower Manhattan, where the 3,000 new police cameras are apparently slated to go.

At that time the NYCLU report stated:
“There is, however, a growing body of evidence that indicates the proliferation of video surveillance technology is undermining fundamental rights of privacy, speech, expression and association.”
So it is interesting to see in the space of two more years, the former head of the NYCLU come out four-square last week for citizens to arm themselves – with their own video cameras. To become proactive with the camera phones or digital cameras they carry around. Siegel, you see, now counts Critical Mass among his clients as an independent attorney. This is a loosely organized group of bicycle riders that have caused varying degrees of traffic disruption and confrontations with police officers over the years, particularly in the last four. One police officer recently was caught on camera phone knocking a Critical Mass cyclist off his bike, during a July ride. The officer had sworn that the cyclist ran into him and was disrupting vehicular movement. Neither was the case, as the citizen-held camera showed. That led to a protest on the walk in front of One Police Plaza that tied that act of police disrespect to a host of cases of police brutality, as reported here. And this is where Siegel and other community activists said all citizens should now arm themselves this way – as a check on police statements and, in logical extension, as a counterbalance to police surveillance. Citizens’ own surveillance of public protests and activities “changes the dynamic” with police, Siegel said. “No longer can the police officer swear out a complaint that says A, B and C and the video shows X, Y, Z.” People’s own cameras, for instance, will surely outnumber those of the police. Roughly 600 million camera phones were sold worldwide last year; that number should hit 1 billion a year, soon. And the public is already being invited to do its own snooping on public locales. There are worldwide directories of webcams that any citizen can hook into at any time, from Trafalgar Square in London to Times Square in New York City to downtown Tokyo. These will only get more numerous, more precise and more observant, changing the dynamic further. And the New York Police are hardly at the head of the pack on installing cameras, to start with. Londoners and their visitors are watched by roughly 4.2 million cameras. Police cameras aren’t going to go away. So, when you’re about to head into Manhattan or any other public space, check your pocket or purse and make sure your camera is in there. Don’t leave home without it. NYPD Surveillance Camera photo from Pro-Zak on Flicker

Topic: Hardware

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  • I think there is a balance to be struck

    I'm not happy with the proliferation of cameras you describe, and am opposed to fishing expeditions on principle. I'd much rather see more police on the street (particularly in high crime areas), and more police officers who know their beats well enough that they know where to look for criminal activity, and who are trusted by the locals. All of this costs money, however.

    I don't have any objection to people using camera phones to insure that the abuses of the police and others are exposed, but I also think that people should be just as willing to use their cellphones to report crimes and suspicious activity in a timely fashion. The police need to do their jobs right; but they do need to do their jobs and they do require help from ordinary citizens.

    Spying is bad, but crime is worse. We need to work against both.
    John L. Ries
    • Balance: Cops & Citizens

      Yes. We'll have to see who uses cameras in the best
      faith. There is potential for abuse on both sides, as
      we've seen with up-skirters, photo hazing and the
      like. But, what Siegel and simple experience seems
      to be saying is: better to have countervailing camera
      work, rather than just one camera, one set of eyes
      and one interpretation of events. TST
      Tom Steinert-Threlkeld
      • No objection to that (NT)

        John L. Ries
    • "Spying is bad, but crime is worse."

      That depends on the crime. Lighting a joint is illegal, but a very high percentage of the population don't think there's anything wrong with it--you can't just generalise that all crime is worse than widespread surveillance.

      "The police need to do their jobs right; but they do need to do their jobs and they do require help from ordinary citizens."

      Then the police need to stop abusing ordinary citizens.
      Henry Miller
      • Works both ways

        Generally, I think it wise to give people the benefit of the doubt. I certainly think that all citizens should insist upon proper procedure, and I would never plead guilty to an offense I didn't think I was guilty of, but if you expect people to be courteous and professional, then they're a lot more likely to be so than if you have a chip on your shoulder. The adversarial relationship between the police and elements of the population is a bad thing, has been going on for forty years or more, and needs to be broken by someone. In short, I think people should insist that the police do their jobs and do them right, but be willing help the police do their jobs right whenever the opportunity arises.

        And lighting a joint is illegal, regardless of whether or not it's a "crime" in the strictest sense of the word. If you think it should be legal, then there are organizations you can support that are trying to make it so, but reviling the police doesn't help matters. They're not the ones who made the law; the politicians did.
        John L. Ries
      • Police Surveillance

        Quote: [i]Then the police need to stop abusing ordinary citizens.[/i]

        Do you mean like that West Palm Beach cop that decided to teach a verbally abusive subject a lesson [b]while handcuffed?[/b]

        Or, how about that Hillsborough County (FL) detention deputy who decided to throw a paralyzed, wheelchair bound suspect onto the floor of the booking room??

        Or, the cops that hassle you because you have a night job, and [b]at 2:00 in the AM, everybody on the road is drunk?[/b]

        When cops start respecting citizens, then I will start respecting cops. Right now, they do not deserve any respect.
    • There's no money in it

      [i]but I also think that people should be just as willing to use their cellphones to report crimes and suspicious activity in a timely fashion[/i]

      I agree, but here's the problem: You catch someone commiting a crime on camera, you end up having to possibly spend time in court being you are a witness, and you don't "get anything" for it.

      On the other hand, record an officer abusing his position, and you could get a cut of the millions after the lawsuit is filed against the city.

      Not that I subscribe to that thought process, just seems to be the norm anymore.
    • Cop Watch is an example of what to avoid

      I recently watched an documentary on Free Speech TV on Cop Watch, which is a group which trains community members to videotape police action. The problem with their approach, though, is that they explicitly tell their volunteers that police misconduct is common - as a former police officer, I take exception to that remark. Police misconduct exists - but it is rare.

      Cop Watch also tells their volunteers to enter the area where police officers are working, which is not a good idea, and can constitute interference with a police officer.

      I use my video camera to record any untoward event in my neighborhood - so far I have yet to see Denver PD involved in anything worse than refusing to take complaints for house vandalism. No police violence.

      But I am careful to stay out of the immediate area where the police officer is working, while getting a good view of the action and recording both parties' remarks on the audio track.

      I have no problem whatever with police video surveillance. I wish we had some of it in our neighborhood, because we have had drive-by shootings in which toddlers were killed by stray rounds passing through the walls of their home.
      • Misconduct isn't rare everywhere

        I've seen police cars speed, pass on the right, go through stop signs and sometimes even through red lights (once, believe it or not, to get to a donut shop, as clich? as that sounds). I've had them enter a crosswalk, [i]while I was crossing[/i]. That's misconduct. It may be small, but where I live it's common. It's worse, because in violating the law, they cheapen it when they're supposed to be the ones enforcing it. Before someone tells me that they were probably responding to an emergency, no lights or sirens. That isn't to say that I see it in every city or town. But in some, I see it often. And since I'm a law-abiding citizen who avoids trouble spots, who knows what I don't see.

        I once had a desk sergeant tell me he wasn't going to deal with a dangerous traffic situation caused by private construction work (semi-permanently blocking a left-turn-only lane in a busy intersection with no warning to motorists), because he was tired of the project owners not notifying the police of what they were going to do. Excuse me? Isn't that exactly the time the police are supposed to act, especially when the public is at risk?

        In another instance, I refused entry to a cop who claimed he wanted to visit a friend who worked in a place where I was employed as a security guard (long, long time ago when I was in college). Company policy was no police could enter without being escorted by management, unless it was an emergency (for which they were within their rights). I offered to call the superintendent, at which point the cop became abusive, saying that he'd miss his friend's break. He then stated that the next time we had an emergency, he'd take his time responding. Whether he meant it or not, that's something for which I'm sure he could be cited. If it wasn't a case of just my word against his. And of course, since he was a Police Officer, how likely would it be that they'd listen to me? And I'd have made an enemy of someone with the power to make my life hell.

        Some agents of the law are police officers and some are cops. To me, the latter is a epithet and unfortunately deserved in many cases. That isn't to say that the person is necessarily 'evil'.

        The cop who cuts me off on the street, may put himself in harm's way to protect me in other circumstances. But to borrow a phrase, with great power comes great responsibility. A police officer has to do things better and cleaner than the average citizen to set an example. Particularly when it comes to matters of law.

        So I'm not saying all police officers abuse their authority. Some seem to have great respect for it. But others abuse or misuse it wantonly.

        There's a reason the founding fathers limited governmental powers and I suspect that if they foresaw the technology that is available today, there would have been something in the Bill of Rights about public surveillance. To borrow another phrase, who watches the watchmen? As always we do or we come to regret it.
        • Same where I live

          The police are quite blas? with their own violations of the laws. And when told what you just said, they always have an excuse.
    • EMP, it's the only way to go

      Well, 15 years ago, the best option was a rifle with a
      cartridge loaded for quiet operation. With the
      proliferation of government abuse EMP devices have
      become much more practical.
      • Maybe, Maybe not...

        EMP hardening is easy and quick! It won't take too many "EMP" counter-actions to crank-up the Anti-EMP for video surveillance industry...

        I think this is a hard one. We see so much "Legitimized" crime against society in general today.

        I say legitimized because the Islamic extremist have justified "crime" as legitimate for the cause! This is a specious vile spirit that needs to be stabbed in its dark heart NOW.

        But over time, I've witnessed ever increasing police atrocities happening world wide including America!

        It's no secret that the police have become "Thugs in black/blue" (No pun intended).

        It's a generalization I would never have made 15 years ago. Then, I would have labeled anyone making such claims a "Nut case". Not anymore... I've seen too much police abuse nation wide! And what revealed these atrocities? Video in the hands of citizens!

        Mass surveillance of the public at large would have been reviled by the people and courts 25 years ago. How far we have fallen.

        The "Police" sub-culture cannot be entrusted with such a degree of power! We have a DEEP fracture in America and moving to totalitarianism is NOT the answer! Righteousness IS!
    • Individual Rights

      Video surveillance is <a target="_new" href="http://www.internetevolution.com/author.asp?section_id=525&doc_id=143843&f_src=flffour">largely legal in the U.S., as long as it doesn't directly infringe on a person's Fourth Amendment right to privacy.</a> But we are losing that thin barrier of a person's privacy. Today, you have less and less rights as to when and why you are being video taped, and as that article mentions, how that content might be used for in the future.
  • RE: Police Surveillance: Go Snoop, Yourself

    Big Brother is here and the sheeple of this country will let the different governments local and feds get away with this.
  • RE: Police Surveillance: Go Snoop, Yourself

    London I think from memory, has 1 camera to every 3 people. I can't pee anywhere in London (not in public, obviously) without someone behind a desk and a screen watching. Still, one for security and security for all, hoi!
    • London NEEDS those cameras... :-)

      While on an extended business assignment in Great Britain, I drove through London at about 11:00 at night (2300h for you Continentals). Pulling into to an Exxon station/convenience store, I was dumbstruck to see four London men exit a bus, run behind a half-wall next to the store, unzip in formation and let go of some used beer.

      If the Wall of Steel's cameras just make that a rare occurrence, it'd be an achievement.
      • I understand London has them

        I recall reading that London is inundated with security cameras.
  • Who is behind all this crime?

    America wants a civilized peaceful existence.What criminal in my small town needs an automatic weapon?I ain't kidding crime looks like invasion to me!
    • Automatic weapon?

      Do you think "Criminals" have automatic weapons? You mean semi-Automatic weapons!

      You sound like a "Anti gun" shill.
  • Crime got out of control when poilce became the criminals

    We as citizens have failed our country in two respects: we abrogated our right and duty to fight crime to the police, and we failed to hold our public officials accountable for their own criminal actions. Our actions have clearly shown that we will re-elect corrupt politicians time and again. These are people who have gotten away with everything from stealing milk money to murder, and we just turn a blind eye. We expect the police to "take care" of the "bad guys" without bothering us, and in doing so we have given up any power we had as citizens to see that justice is done.

    I served as a jury member a couple of years ago, and I was astounded by two things: the prosecutor (not the judge) spent a lot of time telling us what we could and could not consider as evidence. The judge didn't even make a pretense at impartiality. AND, my fellow jurors accepted this as normal procedure to quickly "put down" the bad guys. As far as most of them were concerned, if the cops said the defendants were guilty, that was good enough for them. Evidence wasn't required. The whole experience was engineered to get the trial done, the jury rubber-stamp, and everyone out before dinnertime.

    As for the idea of someone taking a "citizen's evidence" photo or video, This can be dangerous in itself. A guy in Texas recently tried to take a cellphone video of a cop who had pulled him over for drunk driving. The cop proceeded to taser him, smashed the cellphone on the ground, and then arrested the man for assault and resisting arrest (raising his arm in a "threatening manner" during a traffic stop). And taking a picture of "an official Federal action" has been prosecuted as obstruction and as a security violation by the Feds. You have been warned.
    terry flores