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Put Cameras On Hartford Streets

July 17, 2005
By Cornell Lewis

Hartford is in the midst of a crime wave, with 90 shootings and several highly publicized deaths of young adults. Residents have conducted anti-violence marches and candlelight vigils, but the death toll continues to rise. This surge of crime is striking fear in citizens.

I am in favor of installing video cameras in troubled Hartford neighborhoods as part of a crime-fighting strategy.

Ken Johnson, executive director of the Northside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance, is leading the movement to bring electronic surveillance cameras to Hartford. The cameras would be armed with gunshot-detection technology: They can recognize a gunshot sound within a two-block radius. The source of the shot is pinpointed, and then the camera turns toward the shooter and calls 911.

These cameras, which would be mounted high on telephone poles in bulletproof steel casings, have some people worried that Big Brother will be watching, spying on civilians, infringing on personal liberties.

The hue and cry from the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union is premature at best. In Chicago, New Orleans, St. Louis, Tampa and Philadelphia, crime dropped significantly after trial runs with this new technology.

Let us face the fact that camera use is prevalent in businesses, gas stations, malls, ATMs and banks. Ellen Tolley, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation, says that more than 73 percent of small businesses videotape faces coming into their stores. Thousands of cameras are installed throughout London and are monitored by police 24 hours a day. These same cameras helped identify some of the men suspected of bombing trains and a bus in that city last week.

We cannot have a police officer monitoring every corner in high-crime areas; it is not financially feasible or practical. However, we can have the equivalent of an officer in a video camera. The bleeding-heart liberals who seek to protect Hartford residents from Big Brother have not succeeded in stemming the death toll in our neighborhoods. I find it ironic that people who claim to be looking out for the hoi polloi always do so from air-conditioned offices or safe havens.

If you really want to help the people, then let them fight crime.

I recommend that we remember the African proverb "When there is a snake in the house, there need not be much discussion on the matter." We can talk, but not to the point of holding up the installation of this new technology.

The Rev. Cornell Lewis is a Hartford anti-drug activist and founder of the Men of Color Initiative, a group of men from the city's North End who escort children to school to protect them against violence.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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