By Scott Tibbs, June 27, 2011
Security cameras have been prominent in the investigation of Lauren Spierer's disappearance, which led the H-T to ask a question - should the city install security cameras downtown?
One of the most important responsibilities government has is to not violate the rights of its citizens, so the first concern should be whether this infringes on civil liberties. My answer is that it does not. There is no real expectation of privacy on a public street, where all of your actions are already visible to everyone.
I do not want the government snooping through my e-mail, listening to my phone conversations or spying on me in my home, but I expect I am being watched in a public place. (I should have the right to not be detained by agents of the state for simply walking or driving down a public street, though.)
Concerns about the cameras are reasonable. It is one thing for a private business to be electronically monitoring their property, but having government electronically recording you is a little creepy, even if you are in public.
Even with cameras, one should not have a false sense of security. People should still take common sense precautions to ensure their safety. Cameras cannot cover every inch of downtown. The cameras would be more useful in catching people after the fact or acting as a deterrent. Cameras can be useful in specific situations, such as catching the people responsible for vandalizing the B-Line Trail.
I think comparing cameras to increased police patrols is a flawed analysis. If the idea is to cover as much ground as possible, security cameras would be much more effective than a few more police officers. A couple more officers on patrol will not be able to watch nearly as much area as the cameras, and hiring more officers would be much more expensive than cameras. The biggest expense of any organization is always personnel.
In the end, I do not believe this is necessary. Bloomington is not a high-crime town, and I do not believe the cameras would actually accomplish much. This is a reasonable idea, but the city is right to reject it.