For many people, the thought of having their every movement monitored is the stuff of sci-fi novels, but in Birdgeport, it’s an everyday reality. Bridgeport’s city council decided to get tough on crime by implementing security cameras everywhere—or, almost everywhere. Amongst other places being watched, the major areas of concern are they city’s schools, the city’s housing projects, Bridgeport recreation zone and even Pleasure Beach.
According to David Antar, the president of A+ Technology and Security, BSAFE Video Security Command Center now has eyes almost everywhere. The city has taken what people see in sci-fi movies and turned it into a reality. However, despite popular belief that the system was created to monitor residents’ activities, it was proposed and implemented for the safety of the community as a whole.
The system is the first of its kind in the state, while Suffolk County, NY was the first on the East Coast to implement a similar system. Both cities are the only two municipalities in the northeast now using a citywide system. However, Suffolk’s system is tied in directly to 911 dispatch, something the council members of Bridgeport are working on having done.
The system’s consoles and monitors are housed on the first floor of the Margaret Morton Government Center, in the center of room painted dark blue. Through the consoles, waters can watch everything that is going on in the city’s schools, housing projects and popular beaches.
Jorge Garcia, the city’s director of public facilities, explains the system in idealistic terms: “Using technology, we have torn down the walls of the municipality.” However, while the city’s council members are on board with the $1 million surveillance setup, many city residents wonder if it’s not just a little bit invasive.
Comments on the new system vary, with some people stating with sarcasm, “One more reason to avoid public toilets,” and other similar remarks. Others want to know “Who is watching the watchers?” implying that the city council are the ones that the town needs to be wary of, and one person even came outright and asked when the Mayor’s office is going to get bugged. Even more people don’t think that the amount of crime in Bridgeport is worthy of a citywide system, and are skeptical of why the town has invested so much money in a surveillance setup to watch all only to catch a few.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are the supporters, with people congratulating the city for taking initiative to prevent crime. Many residents share this commenter’s thoughts on the subject: “This will serve as a great deterrent for that small percentage that thinks the rules don’t apply to them. I am totally OK with my tax dollars going back towards serving the citizens.”
Then there are the inbetweeners, with people betting on the system being down more than it is up, and others wanting to know if the footage can be used as evidence in court cases.
Obviously, with a system this massive, the town is going to get mixed reviews, but for all intents and purposes, it is legal, so like it or not, the system is here to stay.
It’s normal to have security cameras in retail stores, banks, residences and even schools, but to have a citywide system seems like a bit much, at least for some, including the American Civil Liberties Union. The union has expressed concern that public surveillance cameras are susceptible to “abuse for discriminatory targeting, potential voyeurism and institutional misuse.”
The ACLU states on its website, “The use of sophisticated systems by police and other public security officials is particularly troubling in a democratic society.” Though the union has no objections to security cameras at some high-profile public places, they believe that to blanket our public spaces and streets with surveillance cameras is a bad idea, namely because they don’t believe that the cameras will continue to be used “just for precaution.” Just like all surveillance technologies in the past, the union believes that municipalities that utilize citywide systems will inevitably use the footage for other purposes. With such an invasive system, there are no boundaries, the ACLU fears, and with technology that continues to advance at a rapid rate, there is no limit to what the systems can be used for.
“Like any intrusive technology, the benefits of deploying public video cameras must be balanced against the costs and dangers,” it admonishes.
Despite public concerns, the city assuages residents’ fears by informing them that people don’t sit in front of the screen all day just waiting for something to happen. Rather, each camera is equipped with a motion detector, and whenever an unsuspected event happens—such as someone breaking into the school in the middle of the school day or—an alarm will be triggered to notify the city of the location of the event so that something can be done. “It gives us both vision and awareness,” Garcia says. Additionally, he claims that the system is already responsible for solving two crimes in the city including the attempted kidnapping last month of a teenaged girl.
“We are now a world of sensors and cameras — welcome to the future,” added Garcia.
As members and business owners of the Bridgeport community, we can’t help but applaud the city’s efforts to protect residents in such an all-encompassing way. The system may have been expensive, and some people may be wary of what it means, but the fact of the matter is, it’s there to do good, and so long as Bridgeport remains a democratic society, that is precisely what it will be used for.
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