In Suffolk County, police are implementing an “overt camera” program in an attempt to stop crime before it starts. The program involves the placement of obvious police cameras in public areas in which residents have requested them, or in which police data has shown there is a high rate of crime.
Why was the overt camera program implemented?
The overt camera program is not necessarily intended as a tool used to convict people accused of criminal activity. Instead, it is meant to deter crime from occurring. The thought is that people will see these cameras and choose not to commit a crime.
There are currently 12 of the cameras located throughout Suffolk County, but they cannot be everywhere. There are many areas where a camera will not see a crime it it occurs. If these cameras do well in reducing crime, though, the county may add more of them over time. That can help ensure that people who are in higher crime areas are safer, and can also reduce the risks faced by business owners and others who may have reason to be worried about crime levels, including shoplifting.
About the cameras
The cameras are all mobile, so they can be transported to other locations if they are not effective where they are, or if they are more clearly needed in a different area. They are also clearly marked and are in public places, which police say is the reason they are not violating any privacy rights. In order to take video surveillance of a suspect in his or her private residence, police would need to first obtain a search warrant.
The cameras can tilt and zoom, and they can also pan, so they will be able to cover more ground than if they were completely stationary. Additionally, their strength and durability will make them harder to damage or destroy.
What about criminal defendants?
Because the cameras are relatively new, it remains to be seen how they will affect criminal defendants, or how courts and prosecutors will use them. It is not clear, for example, how detailed the images the cameras capture are going to be, or for how long police are going to keep recordings. And the law regarding unreasonable searches and seizures may apply if a camera records someone in private, even if it’s physical location is in a public place.
For now, police are touting its benefits to deter crime. It remains to be seen if, and how effectively, they do so.