Cameras: Much Cheaper Than Police Officers E-mail
Written by Mark Nichols   
If you're in one of the cities hit the hardest by budget cuts, the loss of federal funding and other issues, it might be harder to find a cop when you need one than ever before.

Situations like the one in Camden, New Jersey - where half the police force was laid off recently - are the most dramatic in terms of numbers, but the trend of layoffs to ease budget woes is nationwide.

While there are most definitely fewer human eyes and ears in uniform than there were a few years ago, the number of electronic eyes and ears is through the roof. Experts say the interesting part of the increase in surveillance cameras is not only the numbers, but the locations as well.

According to a recent report by USA Today, smaller cities and towns across the US have embraced video monitoring as a cost-effective way to increase public safety.

For instance, in Saginaw, Mich. (population 55,238), the city installed 17 video cameras at a water/skate park and plans to add more by June in other parts of the city.

Mayor Greg Branch says it's a way to be "proactive."

"Crime for us is trending downward, but we still have a lot more crime than we want," Branch told USA Today in a recent interview.

But everyone knows cameras don't make arrests or secure convictions. That's what cops do.

And now that no one can afford as many certified police officers as they used to, cameras and other technologies are an increasingly easy sell.

"Every city is facing budget pressures," Branch says. "We can't put more police on the street." But a $300,000 federal grant will pay for the new cameras.

Big cities such as New York, Washington, and Chicago use cameras to monitor high-crime and busy areas. Many businesses have cameras both in the store and outside as well as a security measure.

One of those cameras in Tucson captured the shooting that killed six and severely wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona.

Dan Kobil, a constitutional law professor at Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio, says courts have ruled that people have no expectation of privacy in public settings.

But as technology allows more precise and pervasive images to be collected and disseminated, he says, courts likely will revisit the issue. What's interesting to many observers is not the fact that high-value terrorist targets like Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and New York City are using cameras to fight crime and ensure national/homeland security, but the amount of smaller jurisdictions that have jumped into the video surveillance model with both feet.

According to the report in USA Today, Lafayette, Ind. (population 65,704) has about 15 cameras and wants at least 30 more, Police Chief Don Roush says. The cameras helped solve a 2008 homicide, he says.


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