To the Police Department

December 23, 2006

surv-cam.jpg

Dear sirs,

Just a short note to thank you for your vigilance in protecting me but also to register a complaint regarding the installation of the surveillance camera at –– and –– Streets. Because of the impossible-to-ignore flashing blue light attached to it, this camera is extremely disruptive to everyone within a quarter-mile of it. Apparently these machines can zoom four blocks and swivel 360 degrees. Pretty impressive doodad, but I look at it more as a nuisance than an effective safety measure. My roommate had to fashion makeshift cardboard curtains to keep the light out of our living room.

I can only assume that you at the Police Department have heard plenty of reasons why the “pods” should be taken down, in spite of the reduced crime rates that surveillance advocates offer. I don’t plan on wasting your time outlining all of those reasons. After all, you should be plenty busy keeping an eye on the live feed from the 3000 cameras installed in our city. You’ve heard all the criticism already: privacy infringement, constitutional rights against search and seizure, the criminalization of every passerby, how dangerous it is to remove power from the police once it has been granted, etc. It’s probably also a waste of time to list all of the other ways that the $34 million from the feds could have been spent: Local public transit, which receives no federal funding. Or a sensible coal-free energy policy. Or a massive overhaul of the public school system. But I guess we can get cracking on these problems as soon as we rid the city of crime, and of the people who intend to commit crime.

Speaking of that $34 million, I am seeing here on the Internets that it came from the Department of Homeland Security. I guess the prevailing mood of fear in the United States is pretty conducive to permitting the police to monitor every entrance and exit from my home. It sounds kind of priggish to talk about how citizens these days are ceding their rights to privacy in order to have a false sense of security against fictional terrorist villains. But let me assure you anyway that I have not witnessed any terrorist activities on –– Street, or anywhere else in my neighborhood, for that matter. I take the credo of “If you see something, say something” pretty seriously. I’m not one to take enemy encroachment lightly—just look at the letter you’re holding in your hands!

No, I would say that the criminal activity in the neighborhood is pretty well limited to the spray-paint projects of local youths. It seems a little excessive to expose us to a never-ending blue lightning storm in order to prevent this essentially victimless crime. Sometimes people make the assumption that because these baggy pants lads are painting brick walls, they must also be carrying firearms and smoking marijuana. This may indeed be the case, but since some of your squad cars pay them a visit every hour or so, to accost the youngsters and give them a vigorous rub-down, I would think that the Force is already abreast of just what kind of recreational activities the kids are up to. So, why the camera?

Maybe its greater goal is to wrest power from the bad guys. I suppose if the camera chased away the kids then –– Street could start facilitating some serious commerce—something more lucrative than a mom and pop pizzeria or tiny Latino grocery. It’s clear that the real estate community has a lot to gain by cleaning up the area. My own landlord is desperately trying to sell his building. An exciting time for our block! But how can the neighborhood improve with an incessant reminder that it is a Bad Place, that the Police Panopticon is unblinking and all-knowing.

When the Mayor introduced the program of surveillance cameras, he claimed, “We own the streets.” I assume that he meant that the city government has asserted its preeminence over the citizens and even the private business that takes place in “his” city. Because by flagging big swaths of the city as danger zones, and by marking them with a flashing light that is impossible to ignore, the city is actively interfering with any and all activity happening near the pod. Almost as if it were true that the government “owns” the entire city. The result is that everybody and everything is guilty until proven innocent. It’s little wonder why the city government is so unpopular with small business owners: police omnipresence seems to a higher priority than anything else.

I feel unwelcome and ill-at-ease around the camera. How can I trust that the camera will not pan to a clear shot of my roommate’s bedroom? It’s also hard for me to gauge, for example, how long I can take to unlock my bike in front of my apartment building before the policeman staring at me from downtown decides that I am loitering, trying to buy drugs or sell myself as a prostitute. Can you let me know how to best signal to the camera that I don’t want any trouble, that I have no plans to engage in illicit activity, and that I consider myself a friend to all armed authority figures? Maybe I should raise my hands in the air after walking out my front door to show the camera that I am unarmed and am not planning any violent crimes. Would it be smart to throw out all pants that are a bit roomy in the crotch just to make sure that it’s clear that I have no gang affiliation? Really, I’m just trying to save you the trouble of stopping and searching me. You have your hands full with the real criminals. Not to mention all the white-collar criminals who must appear deceptively law-abiding on your cameras.

I respectfully ask that the camera be removed, or at least that the light be turned off. As a citizen whom the unit ostensibly protects, it is my judgment that the feeling that I am having a stroke is not worth the charade of security that the camera so conspicuously offers. I do not need to be reassured that the police are ready to zoom up to my doorstep at the first glimpse of something they consider suspicious. Believe me, I know how tireless the department is in patrolling –– Street. I hear you every night.

Sincerely,

Hot Wings, Midwest Chapter

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One Response to “To the Police Department”


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