Video becomes a crime fighting tool

Big and small, cities across the United States are installing video surveillance cameras in public places to fight vandalism, crime and terrorism. Here are some examples:

Fort Pierce, Fla.

Despite a drop in crime, Fort Pierce decided this year to join the growing roster of U.S. municipalities deploying video surveillance cameras in public places.

“All of the other cities are doing this and it has become a need for our own city,” Fort Pierce Risk Management Director Le Thomas said.

In April, Police Chief Eugene Savage proposed a $200,000 to $400,000 pilot program to mount closed-circuit TV cameras in some of the least safe parts of the city to see if they can cut crime even further.

So far, the city has spent more than $60,000 on the camera system, which is in the process of being installed, Thomas said.

Unlike police in Washington, D.C., and contrary to guidelines recommended by such organizations as the Police Foundation, Fort Pierce won’t publicize where the cameras will be mounted.

Studies have shown that cameras are most effective in deterring crime if their locations are pinpointed, which both increases public support for the surveillance and diverts criminals who know they will be seen, according to Philadelphia Police Staff Inspector Thomas Nestel, who has researched the issue.

But Savage has a different view, according to an earlier interview with the Fort Pierce Tribune.

“If it’s overt and people know where they are, the criminals won’t do anything in that area. They’ll just move a couple of blocks away,” Savage said.


Not every city is sold on cameras as a crime-stopping approach. Cincinnati, one of the first municipalities in the nation to adopt the technology, now is decidedly disenchanted.

“We’ve never really gotten anything useful from them,” said Cincinnati police Capt. Kimberly Frey.

With hopes that they would be a boon for crime-fighting, the city first installed video cameras in 1998. By 2000, their utility was already in doubt. A review by the University of Cincinnati that year found the devices accomplished little beyond shifting criminals out of areas under the lens into unwatched spots, where they resumed their illegal activities.

The police department agreed. But neighborhood and community groups persisted.

Using small city grants, several contracted with a private company,, to mount cameras in high-crime areas. Whether or not criminal activity was simply displaced, residents were pleased with their new peace and quiet.

Last September, the city council’s public safety committee endorsed a plan to vastly expand the program by adding about 117 cameras. The council never took up the issue.

Today, the police remain convinced that taxpayer money can be better spent elsewhere.

“We’ve never had a successful prosecution” using camera images, Frey said. “We’re trying to use … money for other things.”

Newport, Ky.

The Newport Police department monitors the town’s city building and nearby streets with extra eyes.

Home to Newport’s police and fire departments, the city building bears surveillance cameras inside and outside _ designed to detect what the peripheral eye can’t see, according to police Capt. Phil Liles.

Three years ago, the city installed 30 cameras to increase visibility and security, including on nearby streets. So far, the city has shelled out about $50,000 on the surveillance system.

Liles said the cameras have helped in several criminal cases, including once when a suspect was apprehended after the all-seeing devices spotted him after a car accident that happened down the street from the municipal building.

Liles said camera images are saved for up to two months. Newport, too, does not make public where the cameras are placed.

The deployment of the devices comes after years of debate and one false start. In 2001, the city held a public hearing on the subject, and researched possible sites and cameras. But officials found the cost prohibitive at the time.

San Angelo, Texas

Spurred by an increase in vandalism, San Angelo has installed city-run surveillance cameras, though officials won’t say exactly where.

Carl White, director of parks and civic services, says the devices have been mounted in the larger city facilities. The next step is to move toward outdoor locations.

While the city does not have the resources for constant monitoring, the digital images recorded can be pulled up on his department’s Web site.

White said only city workers have access to the images, which are saved for 60 days.