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Surveillance cameras cannot replace the work of Toledo police officers, but they can deter would-be criminals who know they are being monitored. It’s one more way technology can augment police work in an era of scarce resources.
The Toledo Police Department has 147 cameras around the city — 90 of them are fully operational, and the rest are expected to work before year’s end.
Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins continues to express doubts about the city’s police-camera system and has not committed to its future.
Mayor Collins, a former police officer and past president of the police patrolmen’s union, knows that, as urban police departments shrink nationally, technology can be used to enhance public safety. Surveillance cameras are not untested. Cities around the country have used them successfully for more than a decade.
The American Civil Liberties Union and others have expressed privacy concerns about the proliferation of surveillance cameras used for crime prevention. Even so, there’s no evidence in Toledo or nationally that anybody’s rights have been invaded or violated.
Law enforcement agencies across the country are using the cameras — private security and police-provided systems — to crack cases, including crimes of terrorism. Detroit police consistently rely upon security cameras from city businesses to assist them with solving crimes. Sometimes cameras provide the only lead police have.
Mayor Collins said he will examine crime data in the fall — not anecdotal evidence — to evaluate the city’s camera system. But Toledo started using cameras in December, 2011, and they have already proven their worth. The Toledo Police Department has provided at least partial statistics that show that most crimes dropped after police cameras were installed in certain areas.
Mayor Collins is concerned that money for the cameras might be better used to hire more officers. The camera project cost the city $1.6 million, with funds coming from the law-enforcement trust fund that benefits from asset forfeitures, automobile auctions, and city capital-improvements dollars. Those dollars are earmarked for crime-fighting equipment improvements or additions, and should not be used to put more boots on the street.
Furthermore, the city might be on the hook for repaying the federal government nearly $3 million for a 2009 grant that paid for the recall of 31 laid-off police officers. Toledo clearly isn’t in a financial position to grow the force in any significant way.
Surveillance cameras have proven to be an asset in Toledo, and Mayor Collins should get behind them.