In a move to combat crime activity, the City of Calgary is deploying new closed-circuit television surveillance cameras in downtown areas in a one-year pilot project.
Up to 24 cameras will be installed in various locations in a two kilometer radius around City Hall, such as Olympic Plaza and the East Village, on a wireless network. The police and senior bylaw officers would view the video downloaded on authorized laptops.
City council approved the project, which will cost $500,000, on Mon., Mar. 17.
Ward 12 Alderman Ric McIver, who asked for the installation of cameras in his Notice of Motions, noted that citizens complained to him about not feeling safe downtown and on transit.
"I am just trying to keep my bosses, the citizens who voted for Ric, safe in Calgary," explained McIver.
Ward 11 Alderman Brian Pincott, the only councillor on the Community and Protective Services Committee to vote against the cameras, is concerned about the public privacy versus safety balance.
"I am in favour of public safely, but we need to make sure safety is properly balanced against public privacy and this project does not look like a good balance," said Pincott.
Pincott is concerned that the pilot project could be a social behaviour issue aiming at controlling the homeless population.
"The presence of security cameras runs the risk of criminalizing a marginalized homeless population, by pointing them at the population to get them to move," warned Pincott.
Pincott is wary about the effectiveness of the security cameras themselves in stopping criminal activities.
"Other projects like this around the worldÂ--such as London and Tokyo--have never been really examined and never get removed," said Pincott. "No one has ever evaluated their effectiveness, so it is a big tradeoff of privacy for something that we do not know works."
McIver noted that there have been high incidents of intimidation of citizens, assaults, drug dealing and violent crimes on the street, and the cameras would be there to deal with crime and social disorder.
"Video helps to get convictions," said McIver. "Cameras will seldom stop a first offence, but can put bad people behind bars before they recommit a serious offence."
McIver is quick to explain he understands the privacy concerns, by outlining the need to respect privacy of citizens in his motion.
"For this reason, we must re-evaluate the use of cameras every year and to set policies that prevent abusive use of the technology," said McIver.
Pincott stressed that other alternatives would be better in solving the downtown crime problems.
"I would like to see a greater emphasis on community policing, where police officers have more of an on-ground presence, are familiar with their areas and thus are much better at specifically targeting the criminals," said Pincott.
The Alberta Civil Liberties Association president Stephen Jenuth is not pleased about the City of Calgary's new surveillance project.
"The Alberta Civil Liberties Association opposes video surveillance of persons engaged in their lawful activities in public areas," he said.
The Civil Liberties Association is not convinced that the cameras would help reduce unlawful activities, and is concerned about the cameras being aimed at the unfortunate people, Jenuth added.
"There are few safeguards to prevent the surveillance cameras from being used to track and control these Calgarians and to move them to other areas of the city," Jenuth said.
Jenuth pointed out the city would have difficulties in justifying the installation of more cameras, since Calgary is peaceful relative to the U.K. and U.S.
"We have no history of terrorism or similar activities, which have been used for such cameras on location, such as in London," said Jenuth.