Located in the heart of Dutch country, Lancaster, Pennsylvania may have the image as one of the tranquil places in the country. But in reality, it’s one of the most crime-laden cities in the country. In 2008, Lancaster ranked 9th among cities its size in violent crimes rates. For this reason, city officials took a step to protect their citizens by installing 160 cameras across four square miles within Lancaster. According to CBS, that’s more cameras than major cities such as Boston or San Francisco.
The cameras are monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week by paid employees, who can zoom in and out when they see something suspicious. According to Lancaster Police Chief, Keith Sadler, the camera monitors are to call 911 when they see unusual activity and the police are immediately notified. As a matter of fact, live video feeds can be sent right to police dispatchers.
So far, the cameras have captured a number of crimes, such as DUI accidents, an illegal gun sale, and an assault on an elderly victim by a group of teenagers. The cameras also helped catch a murderer. According to the victim’s mother, Freda Brown, the jury was able to watch everything that happened via camera footage of her 19 year old son’s violent death.
But as with anything, the camera experiment is not without controversy. One Lancaster citizen says the camera captures him walking down his street or sitting on his front porch. His complaint is not that the cameras are in place, but who is behind the monitors watching them. While the cameras are funded partially by the city, they are also funded by private individuals, individuals who some citizens say have an agenda.
Joe Morales, the head of the security coalition that operates the cameras says he understands that the monitoring system is a touchy subject, “We understand how serious this is, the very serious nature of the work we’re doing. And we know that it wouldn’t take very much to damage the trust and integrity we’ve earned up to this point.”
And the debate continues. Over the last seven years, since the cameras began being implemented, some citizens point out that the crime rate has held steady. But for Freda Brown, the cameras were an instrumental tool in bringing her son’s murderer to justice.
According to CBS, at least four more cities in the United States are considering implementing the same program.