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article imageAustin Police Chief Proposes Cameras in High-Crime Areas

By Roger Corral     Feb 17, 2009 in Politics
The installation of surveillance cameras around certain city areas could spark protests from privacy advocates who believe camera systems will only enhance the role of the government.
Usually known for its nightlife and party scene, Sixth Street in Austin, TX has seen its share of arrests and public intoxications.
But recently, crime has gone up 27.9 per cent from last year in the downtown area, causing many within the police department to initiate new safety measures.
Aside from routine bar checks and an increase in patrols around the area, the department is proposing a new surveillance camera system that will attempt to record all public activity in the famous party district.
Recently-appointed Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo announced to the media the proposed camera system. Acevedo said all recordings would be reviewed by police officials and could potentially be used as evidence in the case a criminal act is caught on tape.
“This is to put people on notice: criminals, the community, and the cops," Acevedo told local CBS affiliate KEYE-TV. "You’re in an area to be surveilled that’s out in the open. So, guess what? Before you start fighting with somebody, before you start stabbing somebody, before you start trying to victimize somebody, your action may be caught on tape, and you may be prosecuted and convicted, because we’ll have the best evidence.”
If the surveillance system is approved, Sixth Street would only be the first district to be targeted around the city, followed by at least three more locations that have high-crime reports. The equipment is expected to be installed in a few months if there is no major opposition from the public.
Though the cameras are intended to punish criminals, many advocates of privacy rights are reluctant to approve.
"I don't think it will keep us safe," said Elani Hernandez, a current student at The University of Texas at Austin. "The only thing that will happen is many innocent victims will be caught in embarrassing acts, while many of the criminals will simply move somewhere where they won't be seen."
The money for the project would include federal funding, allocated from the Department of Homeland Security as an "anti-terrorism" measure.
The proposed project comes after several discussions between the Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA) and a group of business owners in Dallas, who currently have a 40-camera police surveillance system around their downtown area. The cost of each camera is estimated to be about $800.
Many questions remain: Will federal funding be the only source to pay? Will the striving entertainment district suffer if many crimes are recorded?
But most importantly, will it keep us safe? If Acevedo gets his way, we'll have to find out through his cameras.
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