Friday, January 21, 2005

Is anyone watching?

It's common, these days, to see signs in the parking lots of superstores that warn potential criminals about surveillance cameras. And it goes without saying that there are cameras inside most stores as well. That's what makes this tragic story even more disturbing. A Texas WalMart employee was abducted late Wednesday evening, the man responsible turned up in Arizona Friday morning and her body was found shortly thereafter. Now think about this: the abductor shows up on store surveillance cameras, lurking in and out of the store for more than an hour Wednesday night and carrying a duffle bag. The parking lot abduction itself is caught on tape. But it wasn't until the next morning, when the victim failed to show up for class, that the police were called and an investigation started.

In other words, no one was watching what the cameras were picking up. There's no real surveillance at these stores, no prevention -- only the gathering of evidence for a prosecution after the fact. But cameras continue to be touted as a crime prevention tool.

Much was made recently about placing security cameras in Deep Ellum, a popular Dallas nightclub district that has seen business drop off as crime took over. No one here seemed to be aware that for years, surveillance cameras have been used in England. Read London papers for a week or two and decide for yourself if it's really preventing crime.

Or just read about Megan Leann Holden. Her videotaped abduction reveals that surveillance cameras are tools of prosecution but not prevention. They're meant to re-assure employees and business patrons that someone's watching out for them. But that's a lie. There's no security to be found in security cameras.

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