Thursday, August 31, 2006

Roll the film

As the only the most honest of the law enforcement agents will attest, security is a relative term that can’t ever be quantified in any sort of tangible fashion especially when the only way to prove freedom from danger is to actually die.

But in the post 9-11 world, security has come to mean big money for a few select people, namely those who feel a handful of remote cameras linked to a television screen in some far-off room will prevent harm from happening. The most recent case of this money-for-safety exchange occurred in the small riverside town of Stillwater, which was awarded a $40,000 grant last week to install security cameras at the community center.

True, cameras can be a valuable tool for cops, who can’t be everywhere at once. But increasingly, they’re become a piss-poor replacement for community policing, which has always proven more effective than simply waiting for someone to commit a crime and then arresting them.

The basic tenant of community policing is to have cops walking the streets and interacting with their surroundings. When officers interact with the community and vice versa, there’s a sort of respect garnered on either side that is painfully absent with increased reliance on such tools as closed circuit cameras. In other words, cameras don’t prevent people from committing crimes; they only catch them in the act.

On the other hand, cops that garner respect from the people act as a deterrent two fold. When an officer becomes a well-liked member of the community, breaking the law then also becomes an issue of violating a friend’s trust, which is something that usually makes most petty and juvenile criminals think twice.

But for Stillwater, it’s apparently a lot cheaper to fleece forty grand from the fed and come away with a spiffy new digital camera system rather than contend with cop pensions, the cost of training and good honest law enforcement.

Of course, it should be noted that a 16-camera system generally retails for under $6,000, which is far less than the grant Stillwater received. And because they’re likely to have more grant money than they need, they’re likely to shoot for the top of the line model they don’t need. But don’t worry, it’s just your tax dollars at work, making sure that when the bad guys strike, at least they’ll be caught on camera.

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