Saturday, May 28, 2011

Cameras reduce crime in King County libraries

King County Library Director Bill Ptacek removed all cameras from King County libraries after one of them solved a crime. Sound Politics - Seattle Times

I wrote to the KCLS Board and received a replay about the thorough investigation they made. The included the statement that Mr. Ptacek sent to his board that contains these two bullets:

 To date, few crimes have been solved with the aid of footage from KCLS security cameras either because cameras are not focused on the location of the crime or images are often not clear enough to provide helpful information.

 Cameras are not proven to be a significant deterrent of crime—in our case, of either materials loss or criminal activity. Several studies show that the presence of cameras has little effect on the incidence of impulsive and/or violent crimes and conduct.

Logic test: if the first statement is true can the second also be true? No! The first disproves the first line of the second. Though he is probably working up a rigorous definition of "significant" that reduces any crime solved to a lower level. And even if the cameras don't discourage impulsive/violent crimes and conduct, as "several studies" show, the cameras can still show where there are problems and on occasion solve crimes.

Are cameras in use at other libraries? Next bullet:

 The use of security cameras in libraries across Washington State is not widespread and our local counterparts, in settings similar to KCLS, have not equipped their libraries with exterior cameras and have minimal use of interior cameras.

Yes. Cameras are in use in other libraries. Then:

 KCLS cameras were only installed at ten of 46 libraries.

 KCLS cameras were unmonitored. The presence of cameras can convey a false senseof security given the reasonable expectation that video is being monitored at all times and help is on the way if someone is victimized.

Those unmonitored cameras solved a crime at Woodmont Library. The Des Moines police requested the tape. Due to Mr. Ptacek police couldn't see the tape for a week. On viewing it they knew in 15 minutes who they were looking for.

But the Library management don't want the cameras, even if effective. Also a law allows them to not disclose the identity of library patrons for public records request and criminal investigations - RCW 42.56.310. Is a mugger in the parking lot a library patron? He is not protected by that law. Why protect him?

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