Denver Police Promote Use of Surveillance Cameras

June 24, 2009

The Westword recently reported an update on the Denver Police Department’s (DPD) use of surveillance cameras. The cameras are part of the DPD’s High Activity Location Observation (H.A.L.O.) Program.graffiti, to track down drug dealers, to keep watch during the 2008 Democratic National Convention, and to generally keep an eye on things. The Westword article mentions a few camera locations, but where are the rest of the 259 cameras around the city?policies in the DPD Operations Manual indicate the H.A.L.O. Program Commander shall maintain a list of H.A.L.O. approved locations for cameras for the department website. I have not been able to find any such list. The lack of camera location listings could be an oversight or due to a simple lack of resources. Given the frequency of news stories about the surveillance program, the cameras obviously are not a secret. Sharing the specific locations could make vandalism easy, but the choice was obviously already made to inform the public about the cameras’ existence.

The cameras have been installed at various times to combat

The H.A.L.O. Program

I’m sure there are many considerations to take into account when implementing a public surveillance program. Precedents in New York, London, and other cities are probably helpful. I admire the DPD’s effort to explore alternative crime-fighting strategies and to inform the public about those strategies. But, what is the efficacy of using surveillance cameras?

As the Westword story points out, the ACLU has claimed surveillance cameras “do not work to reduce crime. Study after study shows that surveillance cameras push crime around to other locations, but they don’t actually reduce the overall rate of crime.” Even if crime is just moved, eliminating the remaining crime in those areas may be easier given a concentration of resources. Also, using cameras may reduce the manpower needed to patrol the city. And, a good public outreach program could educate people that they are being watched. Knowing a criminal act will be caught on tape is likely to reduce crime. (Maybe you’ve seen people slam on their brakes at intersections with red-light cameras.)

I was unable to find contact information specifically for the H.A.L.O. program, but I have submitted an e-mail to Denver’s 311 e-mail address to ask for information about how the DPD measures the program and if a list of camera locations is in fact available. (I’ll update this post if I receive any information.)

Fighting crime is always an admirable effort. But, where is the line between fighting crime and invading privacy? Obviously, no one has clearly answered that question.

Benjamin Franklin said, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Alternatively, if someone is not committing a crime, there is no need to be concerned about being videotaped.