Downtown cameras get the okay

By Daniel Pagan

This summer will see 22 new security cameras going up throughout downtown Calgary in response to gang violence and crime.

After long discussions at city council, the cameras are being installed in areas like the Stephen Avenue Mall and near City Hall. The total budget for the camera system is $50,000.

Chief bylaw officer Bill Bruce said bylaw officers are installing and testing the camera system, but the Calgary Police Service will soon be able to access the data on their vehicle laptops.

The cameras are capable of motion detection and can capture usable images under most urban lighting situations. Bruce said the cameras themselves are restricted by their pan, tilt and zoom capabilities and masking software to prevent them from looking into private property.

In response to privacy concerns, video data will only be kept for a short period unless part of an investigation.

“Nothing is perfect and unfortunately, surveillance is becoming more of a standard in our world society,” said Bruce. “If used properly, there is a place for surveillance technologies, but it must be driven by a need, not a wish.”

Bruce acknowledged the possibility of crime moving from areas covered by cameras to ones uncovered, but said causing criminal activity to move would result in a measurable reduction overall. The system is wireless, which allows inexpensive relocation of cameras.

The Alberta Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner is working with the City of Calgary to assess the cameras’ impact. OIPC director of communications Wayne Wood explained they believe the scope and scale of the camera program needs to be better defined.

“Currently, there are questions that need to be addressed in the report, like if the cameras would be used to identify litterbugs or will it be focused on serious incidents?” asked Wood.

He said there needed to be clear guidelines for who will be able to access the video, if there will be live monitoring and how long the video would be kept before destruction.

The Anarchist Black Cross of Calgary group is skeptical of the usefulness of security cameras. Member Craig Omen said there is very little evidence that the cameras are effective.

He said studies done based on the London model, where they installed cameras over 10 years ago, have concluded that cameras do not lead to a dramatic drop in crime.

Cameras were also taken down in Edmonton and British Columbia because of this. Omen compared the installation of cameras so people can feel safer to a cancer patient getting a Band-Aid.

“The idea that security cameras, watching everyone and everything in its view, would respect privacy is farcical,” said Omen. “Why has this proposal received so little news coverage and debate in the public? Why, if this is something that affects us all, have the general population not have any real say in this plan?”

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