Monday, January 08, 2007

Toronto police remove downtown CCTV cameras

It's not every day that you hear about police operated CCTV cameras being taken down, but that's what's happening in downtown Toronto. The municipal police erected three cameras at busy intersections during the holiday season and have now taken them down. The removal of the cameras has caused some controversy, as some merchants and police investigators say they have potential in deterring and investigating crime. Others ask what sort of deterrence they offer as a shooting took place under one of the cameras in the past week. Check out: City News: Police shut off closed circuit cameras at three downtown intersections and Blog TO: Yonge and Dundas Security Cameras Turned Off.

Thanks to Rob Hyndman for passing along the link.


Anonymous said...

A letter to Mayor Miller:

Dear Mayor Miller:

The Toronto Police Services Board is currently implementing a provincially-funded trial project to test the viability of police closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in the City of Toronto. CCTV cameras are being erected in three neighbourhoods: Jane and Finch, Malvern, and the Entertainment District. We, the undersigned, feel that this trial project is misguided and that it would be a serious miscalculation to make CCTV cameras a permanent installation in our public spaces. There are several reasons for our objections; we ask that you take a few moments to consider the following:

First and foremost, there is ample evidence from other jurisdictions that CCTV cameras do not succeed in deterring crime. A sampling of the ever-growing library of reports and studies concerning CCTV camera usage will quickly reveal that cameras have no effect on the amount of crime in the targeted jurisdiction. If anything, cameras will simply push some crime out of a neighbourhood and into the neighbouring areas or the stairways of residential buildings and local private property.

The most violent types of crimes, for example the gang violence which resulted in the death of Jane Creba, would not be stopped or moved by the presence of cameras. Only old-fashioned police work and a focus on community policing can do anything to stop these sorts of crimes. According to the Spriggs and Gill report, commissioned by the United Kingdom Home Office, CCTV cameras were found to have absolutely no statistically-relevant effect on crime. In fact in most cases, when compared to control groups, crime rates actually increased.

As CCTV cameras are placed around the city, the Toronto Police may begin to redeploy its officers away from the neighbourhoods under watch. This reduces the role of community policing and restricts the ability of the police to actively intervene in crimes in progress. The focus slowly becomes one of catching the criminal after the fact, rather than stopping the crime.
Social Implications

Along with the ineffectiveness of the cameras, there is a social effect resulting from their installation. In targeted neighbourhoods, the police become overseers, remotely watching the activity in the community - something which often leads to racial profiling. We know from the experiences of other cities, for example, that CCTV has been used to target minorities and the homeless in an effort to remove them permanently from publically-accessible areas and suppress pan-handling. In a city that prides itself on diversity and acceptance, this is clearly a difficult technology to justify that will only serve to further damage relations between the community and the police.

The result is that they are no longer the friendly neighbourhood officers who know the community, assist where needed, and intervene where necessary. A divide is created between the community and the police with each becoming separate entities, with distinct goals rather than a common community striving for a common goal. Toronto's finest already have enough trouble being accepted in many communities; the last thing the police need is another wedge driven between them and those they have pledged to protect. The proposed CCTV cameras will fundamentally and irreversibly alter the ways in which the community and the police interact.


The proposed police cameras will be surveying public spaces throughout the city. We feel that it is reasonable to assume that law-abiding citizens should be free to walk the streets and enjoy the public spaces without being monitored by the police. The very act of continuous monitoring reduces the freedoms we all value within our public spaces. It puts into jeopardy our rights to privacy, and anonymity, on the streets of our city. Even in the cases of those privately-controlled cameras used by many businesses there is a distinct difference. We can choose to not frequent a private business which makes use of cameras; we cannot, however, choose to avoid traversing the streets of our city. We cannot avoid being effectively followed by these cameras in our daily lives.

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