18 August 2009

Do Digital Devices Disinfect?

They say sunlight is the best disinfectant, meaning that requiring things to happen in public view reduces corruption.

Does a truck full of cameras serve the same purpose?

PEORIA, Ill. -- This industrial city, hard hit by the recession, has found a new, low-budget way to fight crime: Park an unmanned, former Brink's truck bristling with video cameras in front of the dwellings of troublemakers.

Police here call it the Armadillo. They say it has restored quiet to some formerly rowdy streets. Neighbors' calls for help have dropped sharply. About half of the truck's targets have fled the neighborhood.

"The truck is meant to be obnoxious and to cause shame," says Peoria Police Chief Steven Settingsgaard.

The Armadillo has helped alleviate problems like drug dealing that can make neighborhoods unlivable.

Police got a call at 2:30 one morning from Mary Smith, a 58-year-old computer operator at a Butternut Bread Bakery. Fighting back tears, she asked for relief from her neighbors' incessant yelling.

She and her husband, Terry, 61, a Butternut baker, have lived in their home on North Wisconsin Avenue for 30 years, and have seen the neighborhood fall into drug trafficking. The police suggested using the Armadillo.

That weekend, the truck pulled up to the offending neighbor's house. A police officer knocked on the door and told the residents a nuisance report had been filed. Within 24 hours, the Smiths say, the house was quiet. The occupants moved out soon thereafter. . . .

In the summer of 2006, police were brainstorming ways to rattle a suspected drug dealer. They had exhausted traditional strategies, including undercover operations, and were left empty-handed and frustrated. They decided to park a retired police car in front of the suspect's house.

About 24 hours after the car had been put in place, all its windows had been smashed, the tires were flat and the body was dented.

"It was embarrassing to tow a police car," Chief Settingsgaard says. "But I saw it as a success because it was proof how much [the dealer] really disliked the police car's presence." . . .

The Armadillo is the opposite of an undercover operation. Its goal isn't making arrests, but alerting suspects that police are on to them, police say. The surveillance footage is rarely reviewed by the police and is saved for just a short time before it is erased. Still, the unit can have a significant impact.

From the Wall Street Journal via the CrimProf Blog.

Apparently British social services departments use a similar approach, very similar to the original Orwellian Big Brother concept, of installing cameras inside the homes of families suspected of having abuse and neglect problems.

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