Public safety spending doesn't automatically equal police state!

So a close friend of mine wrote a blog expressing outrage that $5 billion is being spent on installing cameras and other public safety measures in American cities under the President's stimulus plan. She claimed that the spending is wasteful, violates privacy and creates a police state! I have to say, I absolutely disagree. So, here I will post my reply, her reply to my reply, and my reply to that. The last one is in moderation at the time of this post.

I'm not so sure video cameras are indicative of some sort of police state. Surveillance cameras are already installed in Muni, in taxicabs in New York, in malls by private owners of those malls, in your grocery store, the 7-11, and your local mall's parking lot. It's not some sort of revelation that we're caught on camera in our daily lives more often than we know. European cities like London already have video cameras everywhere. Yet, Great Britain is not considered any less a free society than our own. Cities such as Oakland deal with a level of crime that is making their communities a hellish place to live. If installing surveillance cameras in public areas helps the Oakland police catch more criminals and clean up their streets, I am all for it.

Now, everything can be used for a good purpose and an evil purpose. But the way to stop abuse is not take away potentially effective tools of fighting crime. It is to train officers on the legal and illegal use of force and evidence.


There are several issues with that (city-wide surveillance, for example):

* spending money on it does not make me (or anyone I know) feel safer. It makes me feel somewhat paranoid...

* videotaping people without their consent is a violation of privacy (unless it is a public place) and even then, they have to be notified.

* why should my (taxpayer) money go to fund increased police forces and equipment that makes their job easier... if anything, I'd want to make my job easier.. I want it to fund MY JOB!

* installing video cameras actually entices crime and vandalism (some criminals actually like being on camera, those that don't, simply brake them)

* just because there are already cameras everywhere we go, doesn't mean we need more. I would argue that because of that, we need less!

* and finally, do we need to spend $5 billion dollars in taxpayers money on police and their gadgets when people (whose money we're spending) don't have jobs???? No, no, no. Creating jobs in police would only mean we are policing each other and that is, my friend, a police state.


Well, to address your points one by one:

* This specific spending does make me feel safer, so there is at least one person that you know that it makes feel safer. Not all spending makes me feel safer, but this does. Paranoia is not always a rational response.

* I did not see anywhere that the city is going to come to your house and place video cameras in your home! They ARE only placing it in public places. And no, there is no legal or Constitutional requirement that you be notified when you are videotaped in a public place. In fact, legally, there is pretty much no expectation of privacy in a public place. Your expectation of privacy in a public place cannot be so overriding that safety measures are subjugated to it.

* Taxes are not a pay-for-product concept. It is the use of the common wealth for the common good, as governed in a democracy. Every taxpayer dollar spent does not require the approval of every taxpayer. And I'm sorry, but I don't think it's such a bad idea to give the police the tools they need to do their job, i.e. law enforcement.

* If you have any empirical proof (i.e. a peer reviewed statistical study or analysis) that installing cameras increase crime, I'd like to see it.

* If you lived in a high crime city like Oakland, perhaps your perspective on whether installing more cameras would help would change. Either way, your original point in the post wasn't that this spending was just wasteful, but that installing cameras in public places means some sort of a police state or less free society.

* Having a sufficient police department does not mean a police state. Currently, a lot of police departments are understaffed, and staffing them fully does not make a police state. Yes, $5 billion spent on public safety measures and adding police officers in communities ravaged by crime is a GOOD idea.

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