Tuesday, May 30, 2006

You're being watched through sepia lenses

London's $139,000 downtown surveillance cameras are once again a topic of discussion at city hall. The spy-cams are watched for only a portion of the day, have done nothing to prevent or fight crime, produce foggy images that cannot be used as evidence in court, and continually fail to identify vandals and violent insurgents. And although a downtown shooting over the weekend occurred in the monitored area, police have no suspects.

Despite all of these reasons and many others to scrap the cameras, including the fact that crime occurs throughout the city and the questionable "right" of the city and police to spy on downtown citizens in the first place, some members of council are recommending yet more money be designated to the project, as usual ignoring all arguments to the contrary.

Sixteen hours each day London's downtown cameras send images to city hall that go unwatched, a hole in surveillance that can be plugged -- at a cost of $130,000.

The future of the surveillance program, inspired by a tragic killing seven years ago on Richmond Street, will be debated tonight by city politicians.

For Coun. Bernie MacDonald, the solution is simple -- spend the extra money.

"You start putting money before people's lives, you're going in the wrong direction," MacDonald said.
MacDonald forgets that it's not his money that is under discussion here and he completely disregards evidence which illustrates that the cameras have not saved lives nor reduced instances of crime in the downtown core. None of that matters to MacDonald however, who believes around the clock monitoring will magically clean up downtown London.
A staff report shows no one at city hall monitors the cameras from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.

During the remaining eight hours, a single commissionaire watches the monitor while performing other duties such as looking after security at city hall and responding to alarms at city facilities.
Presently, the system costs around $139.000, and yet MacDonald estimates that another $130,000 is needed to cover the commissionaire's absences. He wants more staff, but is silent on the quality of the images the cameras capture, although it's likely he's planning on asking for money to replace the cameras next year, if he's around that is.
Not everyone is keen to spend the extra money. Coun. David Winninger notes staff say cameras haven't reduced the prevalence of crime since they were put in place in 2001.

Staff do say police probing crime have used cameras to further their investigations, but even that benefit has limits, Winninger said.

"A Crown attorney told me they're not much use in courts because of their (low) resolution. They get grainy footage," said Winninger, a lawyer.

If the police find the cameras aid investigations, they should pick up the tab, he said.

"Let it come out of their budget."

That move is opposed by police Chief Murray Faulkner, who said it would be costly to move monitoring equipment and costlier still to have police watch the monitors.

Having police monitor the streets by camera may run afoul of privacy laws, he said.
Currently, an appointed commissionaire watches the cameras, when he's not snoozing that is. If the commissionaire sees something suspicious, he sends the video footage to the police for viewing. If having police watch the monitors violates privacy, by extension, privacy is violated when the commissionaire watches the citizens. In addition, it is unclear why the cameras would have to be moved if the police took over the monitors. And if Faulkner is worried about using money from the police budget, he can simply ask for more at budget time. Council is always happy to produce pots of money for the police. But Faulkner probably understands how useless the cameras really are, although he's not about to admit it at this point - better the city take the blame than the police.

The above quoted article is from Monday's edition of The People's Press. The end result of last night's meeting was a call for "public" input. Council have been arguing and kicking their feet over the spy-cams since the system was implemented in November 2001. Five years later taxpayers are still paying for the costly and useless cameras, in addition to the food these "decision makers" eat at the city cafeteria in between closed door meetings.
The vote for a public meeting came after tense exchanges between MacDonald and the chairperson on the community and protective services committee, Coun. Susan Eagle.

Eagle questioned debating the program's future when staff had not done so in a report that merely mentioned the lack of monitoring and the cost of 24/7 coverage. She resisted, then relented, when MacDonald asked to have the committee listen to the man without delegation status, David Tennant, who had led the fundraising drive to purchase the cameras.