Day 213: Surveillance special!Posted: August 2, 2011
“Stage a crime in front of a back-alley security camera and see if anyone comes to the rescue.”
There must be a few back alleys somewhere in this town, but I don’t think any of them have security cameras. Even if they did, they would be useless: cameras in public places aren’t about making us safer, they’re about making us think we’re safer — about the illusion of safety.
Nobody is watching the feed from those cameras. It’s probably recorded and stored, so that it can be accessed and watched in the event that something prosecutable happens — but that watching happens after the fact, not in real-time. Go into a large retail establishment, though — the kind with far more overhead cameras than helpful employees — and you can be pretty damn sure someone is watching the camera feeds, at least most of the time. And why? Because there’s money involved, money to be lost if someone isn’t watching.
Surveilling an entire city — or even just the “high risk” parts of a city — in order to prevent crime simply isn’t cost-effective; not even fucking close. Making people think the whole city is being surveilled — turning the city into a Panopticon — might make some people feel safer, but it probably actually makes them less safe.
Let’s say I mug somebody in an alley that has a security camera. A week goes by, I don’t get arrested. I mug someone else, in another alley with a camera. I don’t get arrested. I talk to my colleagues, at the monthly meeting of muggers and malcontents, and it turns out that lots of muggings happen in front of cameras — and only, I don’t know, 2 muggings out of 100 that occur in front of a camera result in an arrest. I don’t have to know who Jeremy Bentham was to figure out that the cameras are bullshit.
Now let’s say I’m an oblivious middle class bougie who had a few too many $2 PBRs at the local dive, and I’m wandering home, drunk, and decide to take a shortcut down the sort of alley that people get mugged in — but there are cameras, and I know how Jeremy Bentham was, alright, because I read about him in college — and so I feel safe, because there are cameras, and the feeling of safety (and the beer) make me complacent and unobservant — and I get the shit beaten out of me, and my wallet and iPhone stolen.
Here’s my point: even if I could find a back alley surveillance camera in this town, and I went to stage a crime in front of it to see if the police would show up — I already know that the police wouldn’t show up, and I’d probably get attacked and robbed by actual criminals while I was pretending to be one. That didn’t sound like fun, which is why I stayed home, drank vermouth (I’m out of bourbon), and watched The Walking Dead.
Cameras don’t help in a zombie apocalypse either.