Anti-Terrorism Video Surveillance Bad at Fighting Crime

Author: Ethan Ace, Published on May 16, 2016

So much of city video surveillance has been deployed and funded with the intention of stopping, or at least mitigating, terrorist attacks.

But these systems are often bad at fighting crime, completely removed from the most troubled areas of the city they serve.

In this note, we take a look at these issues and potential recommendations to solve them.

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Comments (5)

This article conflates terrorism and crime, which are two different things with differing targets. While nearly all terrorism is criminal, not all crime is terrorism.

There are many definitions of terrorism. However, one common aspect of most definitions is that terrorism has a political purpose. Common crime does not. Toward this end, terrorists usually choose high visibility targets such as those outlined in this article:

  • Event Facilities: Large gathering spaces such as stadiums, arenas, convention halls, and even large school auditoriums where public events were held
  • Schools: Both primary and secondary schools, as well as higher education
  • Critical Infrastructure: Water supplies, electrical generation facilities, bridges, etc.

Besides rarely having a political purpose, common crime generally tries to be less readily apparent: poorly lit areas, at night, with few witnesses present.

So that cameras funded by DHS for antiterrorism are not placed in high crime areas makes perfect sense.

Disclaimer: This is my personal opinion and not necessarily that of my employer.

So that cameras funded by DHS for antiterrorism are not placed in high crime areas makes perfect sense.

Sure, we agree that DHS, by design, does not place cameras in high crime areas. The point is that terrorism has proven to be much less of a threat than garden variety crime and that those DHS funded cameras do not help as much as cameras designed and deployed for 'regular' crime.

Yes, but can they simply be relocated from their originally intended aims (anti-terrorism) without violating the grant from which they were funded and continue to be funded, even if the new locations are deemed a better service to the public?

I agree with you that terrorism is not an existential threat.

Whatever existential threat terrorism wields, it is only acting as a catalyst. Just as your body can overreact to a honeybee sting, killing itself in the process (anaphylaxis), terrorism's most tangible damage is that which its target inflicts upon itself in response.

The New York Times estimates the actual cost of the September 11 terror attacks at $55 Billion. Since then, the United States has spent $3.3 Trillion in response, sixty times as much. The political and psychological effect of terrorism is to magnify the threat much like an immune response gone haywire.

The point of the article is that cameras placed for antiterrorism are not in high crime areas. I was attempting to explain why this is by design and not by mistake.

Disclaimer: This is my personal opinion and not necessarily that of my employer.

I was attempting to explain why this is by design and not by mistake.

Again, we understand that this was by design. The point is, as you acknowledge in your response above, it has turned out to be a mistake in the greater scheme of things.

In other words, some things can be 'by design' and still turn out to be a mistake that would benefit from change. This is not meant politically, but as a observation on how cameras are used by cities.

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