New Orleans Scrapping Surveillance Cameras

They're not worth it:

In seven years, New Orleans' crime camera program has yielded six indictments: three for crimes caught on video and three for bribes and kickbacks a vendor is accused of paying a former city official to sell the cameras to City Hall.

Posted on October 28, 2010 at 6:09 AM • 31 Comments

Comments

AC2October 28, 2010 6:31 AM

"For now, the cameras will stay in place, but won't be maintained. Landrieu said he wants to wait to see if they are ever something they could use again before taking them down"

Yup, just lease the feed to Google Street View... Or one of those ridiculous 'Caught on Camera' shows...

Which reminds me of a completely daft episode of CSI Miami where the CSI team has access to the feeds of sound mics installed around the city and use the sound from those to crack a case...

No OneOctober 28, 2010 6:35 AM

So my question is whether they did any studies on whether the cameras acted as a deterrent to crime rather than catching them in the act or helping solve them later? That seems to be one of the main tacks of camera proponents, that they'll prevent crime because people don't want to be caught on camera.

eric rOctober 28, 2010 7:04 AM

they're probably leaving the cameras in place because it just costs too much in labor to pull them down. So they might as well just let them rot on the utility poles.

Unfortunately for them, there probably is no way to salvage the infrastructure, because the wireless backhaul network was likely non-functioning and poorly designed in the first place.

liprapOctober 28, 2010 7:25 AM

No One, there weren't any studies, because the cameras were one giant scam almost from the second they were installed. Most of them immediately went out and were never reactivated anyway. Even if they had worked, I don't think they would have been much of a deterrent, as the justice system down here has been broken for some time. The ultimate fix isn't the cameras, it is dealing with the NOPD, the courts, the city's corruption, and the culture here that is just as fearful of the cops as it is of the perpetrators and therefore tends not to stand up as witnesses.

Technology cannot be seen as a magic wand, simply as a tool...but we need much more than cameras here to fix what ails us.

GweihirOctober 28, 2010 7:55 AM

The one thing cameras do is make somebody a big pile of money. And there you have the one reason they get installed, somebody's business model. Fighting crime does not figure in there, that is just the lying advertisers. Could not be more clearer than in this case.

SurveillanceCowOctober 28, 2010 8:35 AM

I love how the opponents to cameras in general seize on this foresaken city as any TRUE representation of the efficacy of surveillance cameras.

New Orleans (and it's police department) is a pit of corruption, malaise and blatant scumbaggery.

To point to New Orleans surveillance camera 'program' as an indictment of the industry merely solidifies everyones opinion of YOUR opinion as the ramblings of an obtuse moron. :)

Fred POctober 28, 2010 8:56 AM

@SurveillanceCow - so, ignoring the slurs on New Orleans, what camera program actually has a more positive impact than spending the same money and resources on more traditional methods?

From my perspective, cameras are good for coordinating surveillance over a small scale (like a single building); they are mis-applied on large-scales, since their proper use requires a lot of resources that are better spent elsewhere. But if you have found a significant example where survielling a city via cameras has been useful, please enlighten us.

KOctober 28, 2010 9:11 AM

In the UK (which has _a lot_ of CCTV) being "caught on camera" doesn't seem to be much of a deterrent.

They do appear to be a great help during the investigation (e.g. retracing steps) and prosecution (e.g. evidence) of a crime - albeit a very time consuming one for law enforcement.

The effect on prevention seems to be much softer (how do you measure prevented crime?): they seem to be effective in identifying some situations earlier than an emergency call would (e.g. a street fight kicking off) and in potentially preventing some crime (e.g. police stopping a person, for a chat, that appears to be stalking a women walking alone at night).

Views on the privacy implications are... mixed.

MichaelOctober 28, 2010 9:29 AM

"six indictments: three for crimes caught on video and three for bribes and kickbacks a vendor is accused of paying a former city official"

They achieved break-even!

No OneOctober 28, 2010 9:43 AM

@liprap: I understand that it was a huge mess, my question is, knowing that it's a huge mess and didn't help in any actual police work did they do a study (like they should have been planning to do anyway) about deterrent effects -- only the police should have known which cameras were and weren't working at any given time. For example, my middle school had "cameras" on every school bus. Few of them actually worked but they all had red lights that indicated they were working. However, the school department claimed that having the cameras with the little red light was all that was really necessary to deter problems on the bus. Not saying this necessarily will scale, but it's a fair hypothesis that should be tested.

maxOctober 28, 2010 10:04 AM

I wonder how much of the problem is that the cameras are not paired with an appropriately advanced video storage and analysis database.

From movies and popular culture the expectation is that some grunt can sit down in front of a terminal and seamlessly track actions across multiple cameras and viewpoints. The reality is probably that this takes substantial work by an experienced user to find and edit the appropriate video.

AC2's suggestion of pairing the video feed to Google Street view has real promise. Particularly since Google has shown a willingness and interest in innovations concerning how real people interact with their static photo interface. Imagine a scenario where you can select a moving object and have the system track it in real time (across cameras); all paired with google maps for location and context.

I'm pretty sure I don't really want to live in that world. I morally object to a society with that much tracking and privacy invasion -- but I can see it providing an effective tool for police work and stalkers (oh, and street view users). Much more so than how I perceive the current systems works.

Davi OttenheimerOctober 28, 2010 10:45 AM

This is one of my favorite examples of camera success:

http://www.flyingpenguin.com/?p=7531

A thief that tried to get hired by a store was stopped because they recognized him from surveillance cameras.

I agree with others above who point out that this is a tool debate. You can say hammers hurt thumbs or do nothing at all, but that is not a complete indictment of hammers.

EHOctober 28, 2010 11:03 AM

Max: What are the movies and TV where "a grunt" is the one operating the magic technology? All I can think of is Hugh Jackman (Swordfish), Morgan Freeman (Batman), Chloe (24) and so on, in the "magical henchman" vein.

That said, what I'd like to see is some clips of Landrieu talking up the camera program by saying it's "highly targeted", "specialized," or otherwise "only going to be used for anything else," to balance against her apparent sentiment of "Oh, we'll keep them up. Maybe we can think of something to do with them." Yeah, I bet you can.

BF SkinnerOctober 28, 2010 11:39 AM

AC2 "...lease the feed to Google Street View.."
Ha!

@ No One "...studies on whether the cameras acted as a deterrent to crime rather than catching them in the act or helping solve them later..."
CCTVs are a detective not a preventative control. Every bank has them, every bodegea in NYC too yet armed robberies continue to occur even thought crooks know they are there. We had a guy assaulting women in elevators in housing here. We know it was the same guy 'cause every assault was caught on video. And since he knew the cameras were there he just pulled up his hood and kept his face turned away.

Camera's by themselves aren't enough. for a decade or more our standard recommendation to our clients is to tie intrusion alarms into camera system focus and bring it back to a human operated consol. But what works for a single asset is not scalable to general use public areas.

Where cameras can work - loading docks, Lowe's, casino's are all looking at the internal threat more than intrusion.

BF SkinnerOctober 28, 2010 11:43 AM

My favorite sucess story is a woman who had camera's in her house tied to her alarm. A break in notified her phone and she could see the 5 or 6 guys going through her stuff.

signal, confirmation, notification, response.

None of that ADP nonsense of getting an alarm and calling the police and have them wait around for the keyholder (keymaster?) for a 95% false alarm rate. My counties sherriffs dept dosen't even respond to private residence alarms anymore unless the keyholder is already onsite.

bahOctober 28, 2010 12:18 PM

"...and three for bribes and kickbacks a vendor is accused of paying a former city official to sell the cameras to City Hall."

How ironic is that!?

But it shows that the cameras DO work, and assist in the prosecution of crimes.

jacobOctober 28, 2010 12:54 PM

This backs up studies and observation. This usually moves the crime down the road, they start wearing masks, take out the cameras, etc. Likewise, I have a low opinion of red light cameras. I tell people to go slow as a protest. Cities have removed them when the income generated didn't pay the maintenance or servicing fees. That is the best way to protest along with in town hall meetings. As many have said over the years, technology doesn't replace experience and common sense, which isn't as common as it should be. Cameras may help finding someone after the fact, maybe. Gunshot cameras MAY help, maybe. Making technology sales to government/police is much easier than the private sector. They think tech can solve anything. I honestly think the best patrol mode is the foot patrol, knowing the neighborhood and people. PS don't even get me started on the promises of facial recognition in a crowd. ;)

NobodySpecialOctober 28, 2010 2:53 PM

@K
And a lot of the 'successes' of the CCTV just mean some footage was shown on TV.

There was an infamous murder of two schoolchildren near Cambridge. The CCTV showed them crossing a street earlier that morning - they subsequently were seen by many witnesses and went home again before being murdered.

But it was reported that CCTV had been used in solving the case!

JamesOctober 28, 2010 7:20 PM

@Bruce
They're not worth it but I'd be willing to bet a few politicians are getting fat and happy from all the money given to the companies installing them from which they get a cut.

pfoggOctober 28, 2010 9:00 PM

This going on in New Orleans -- someone there might already have a plan to recover part of the costs by taking the cameras down one at a time and selling them on ebay. They probably won't formally notify the city, but I'm sure a few key personnel would be familiar with the plan.

uk visaOctober 29, 2010 2:32 AM

Whilst I worry about the privacy aspects there's no doubt that CCTV cameras here in the UK have helped convict people of serious violent crimes which may have escaped justice if CCTV coverage was not available... as one barrister said to me recently 'it's tough to argue the case when the jury have watched the video of your client walking up to somebody and stabbing them in the chest'!

Drug Rehab ChannahOctober 29, 2010 3:47 AM

Well they did a review of crimes in Bangkok a while back and there was a direct correlation of less crimes on the sky train stations with visible cameras as opposed to the ones without.

I don't know if the footage has ever been used in court but seems the people up to no good are a little worried about being on tape.

BF SkinnerOctober 29, 2010 8:22 AM

@uk visa "there's no doubt that CCTV cameras here in the UK have helped convict people of serious violent crimes"

How many? Are there numbers? How much does it cost to maintain them? Is it worth it given that there is loss of personal privacy.

No OneOctober 29, 2010 9:23 AM

@BF Skinner: Obviously cameras won't stop crime 100%. Or do you believe that not-smoking is useless in preventing lung cancer? The question I have isn't "do cameras prevent all crime" or "do you think there could be any useful effect", the question is: "Did New Orleans conduct a study to try to link the persistence of cameras with the rate of crime?" If you're not answering that question I don't care what you have to say.

BF SkinnerOctober 29, 2010 12:43 PM

@no one ""Did New Orleans conduct a study to try to link the persistence of cameras with the rate of crime?"

Well it seems that if you really wanted the answer to that question you'd be askin' after the NOLA public safety commission not a blog where people you don't know can say anything to you.

But my answer remains the same...in the same way you don't use a hammer to glaze a window or turn a bolt, you don't expect a detective control to act as prevention. I wouldn't ask anyone for a study on the deterrent effects on CCTV because I don't tell people it's a deterrent. It's not. Though I would put the onus on anyone making that claim to prove it. I'm pretty sure NOLA didn't make that claim but someone selling them camera's likely did.

Locks now. Now that's a preventative control. But locks don't deter either. Locks either keep people out or they don't. If they do the intruder goes away; if the intruder breaks it, it fails as a preventative control. The stronger the lock the longer it takes to break.

The best safe in the world is useless if it's sitting by its lonesome in a country field surrounded by cows and criminals with cutting torches.

The deterrent comes from the identification, apprehension, prosecution and sanction of the perpetrator. The deterrent comes from the certain consequence of the act.

This is the kind of categorical confusion, and conflation of concepts that gives the security field its reputation for muddy thinking and breathless purveyor of fud.

Clive RobinsonOctober 29, 2010 2:50 PM

@ BF Skinner,

"The best safe in the world is useless if it's sitting by its lonesome in a country field surrounded by cows and criminals with cutting torches"

For some unacountable reason I suddely have the desire for a flame grilled burger alfresco.

BF SkinnerOctober 29, 2010 3:38 PM

@Clive
After rereading it I'm suddenly concerned about bovine criminal tendencies and technical capabilities.

Eat 'em all! Let the lower GI sort it out.

Kent MuellerOctober 30, 2010 1:03 AM

Hilarious story, and proof that fears of Big Bro can be overblown at times not by hysteria as much as facts and results. Since crime rates across the board have declined in general over the last 20 years or so, nationwide, it might be hard to find more than anecdotal evidence street cameras have been effective, even as a deterrent. They might well have been, or it might be broken windows policing, demographics, even midnight basketball courts or some combo of all of the above and more. I'd like to see results from other street-camera cities like Chicago.

It shouldn't be confused with private use of CCTV for facilities public and private, which by and large can be effective before and after crime or possible crime.

In general, I suspect the cameras lock in on attractive women more often than anything else.

Clive RobinsonOctober 30, 2010 5:28 AM

@ BF Skinner,

"After rereading it I'm suddenly concerned about bovine criminal tendencies and technica bovine criminal tendencies and technica capabilities Eat 'em all! Let"

Yes that thought did occurr to me (ie biped Haminals making Beefburgers or Beefy Quadrapeds making hamburgers ;)

so a little song,

Munch em all,
crunch em all,
thats the fat and the short and the tall.

They may not taste right,
but in the right light,
every pattie's going to munch and chew all right.

(with appologies to the composer and lyrasist of "Bless em all")

And no Mac-King advertisers et al this idea is now copyrighted (C) go get your own :-[

RogerOctober 30, 2010 11:17 PM

Not a lot of responders seem to have actually read the accompanying reports -- possibly not even Bruce.

The reports make it clear that this is not a test of whether or not the camera system can either prevent crime, or assist in its detection or prosecution. This system was ineffective because it never worked properly, and it never worked properly because it was a scam. Several officials involved in the scheme are being prosecuted for taking bribes.

NicholasNovember 4, 2010 9:35 AM

I'm a little stunned that so many readers of Bruce's blog would prefer that the Panopticon be reality! Who knew? Why should it bother you unless you've got something to hide, right?

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