Downtown cameras debated at Stephens College

A necessary safety precaution or the harbinger of Big Brother?

A debate about downtown cameras took place Friday between Keep Columbia Safe founder Karen Taylor and Dan Viets, Director of the mid-Missouri chapter of the ACLU at Stephens College.

Taylor, whose 25-year-old son was beaten up in a parking garage June 6, supports Proposition 1, which would result in the installment of multiple cameras downtown.

The mid-Missouri chapter of ACLU unanimously passed a resolution Feb. 13 in opposition to the downtown cameras. Viets debated against Proposition 1.

I’ve summarized and bolded some questions answered by the participants.

Are cameras effective?

Viets cited evidence saying for every 1,000 cameras, a single crime may be solved each year on average.

Taylor said evidence shows that cameras left alone for 180 days are shown to be effective.

Where should cameras be?

“We’re not saying put cameras everywhere on every corner,” Taylor said. “I can’t tell you where a hotspot is, which is why the ordinance is written the way it is. The officers know better than anyone where their issues are.”

“We are not trying to remove cameras from the high-risk areas,” Viets said. “There are some places where cameras make sense. There is evidence that they can be of some help in places like parking garages. There is no evidence that it can be of help on streets and sidewalks.”

Should they be downtown?

“Seven percent of assaults occur in the downtown area,” Viets said. “Why would we single out downtown, which is actually a relatively low crime area?”

“There’s information from the Columbia Police Department that shows that over a year period, assault arrests are up 23 percent in the downtown area,” Taylor said.

Everything caught on the cameras would become public record.

“If you’re not doing anything wrong, why do you care?” Taylor said.

“I guess you wouldn’t object if there were a camera placed in front of each one of our houses?” Viets responded. “You don’t have to be a celebrity to resent somebody putting you under surveillance all the time.”

Some final words.

“It’s unreasonable, ineffective, and a waste of public resources to place surveillance cameras on everybody,” Viets said. “It’s going to make (people) feel like they’re in some kind of armed state, and this is an extremely dangerous area.”

“In a perfect world, I’d say no, we don’t need cameras, but the reality is we need them,” Taylor said. “When I go to the airport, I don’t want to go through airport security either.”

Several City Council members, City Council candidates and mayoral candidates attended.

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