On the Ineffectiveness of Security Cameras
Information from San Francisco public housing developments:
The 178 video cameras that keep watch on San Francisco public housing developments have never helped police officers arrest a homicide suspect even though about a quarter of the city’s homicides occur on or near public housing property, city officials say.
Nobody monitors the cameras, and the videos are seen only if police specifically request it from San Francisco Housing Authority officials. The cameras have occasionally managed to miss crimes happening in front of them because they were trained in another direction, and footage is particularly grainy at night when most crime occurs, according to police and city officials.
Similar concerns have been raised about the 70 city-owned cameras located at high-crime locations around San Francisco.
Four homicides have occurred in the past 12 months at the intersection of Laguna and Eddy streets—at the corner of the Plaza East public housing development—including the daytime killing of a 19-year-old in May. A security camera is trained on that corner but so far has not proven useful in making any arrests, Mirkarimi said.
Both the Housing Authority and city have many security cameras in the area, and it wasn’t clear Monday whether the camera in question was purchased by the Housing Authority or city. In any case, the camera hasn’t helped make arrests in the crimes, Mirkarimi said.
“They’re feeling strongly that they don’t work,” Mirkarimi said of Western Addition residents’ views of the security cameras. “They’re just apoplectic why they can’t figure out why nothing comes of this.”
He added that he thinks the cameras may have “a scarecrow effect” in that they give residents the feeling they are safer when they actually have little impact on crime.
That’s not a scarecrow effect. A scarecrow is security theater that works: something that doesn’t actually prevent crime, but deters it by scaring off criminals. Mirkarimi is saying that they have the opposite effect; the cameras make victims feel safer than they really are.