Monday, October 20, 2014

No Cameras? No Problem!

In December 2012 a woman pushed a man to his death. He had been waiting for a train on a Queens elevated subway platform. This was not a cowardly unwitnessed late night attack by criminals—it was not a hidden homicide—but the act of an irrational person who was seen muttering to herself before she pushed her victim in front of an incoming train. 

The crazed woman quickly fled the station but police—thanks to a recording made on a surveillance camera—soon had a complete description. She was quickly apprehended and charged.

But that camera was not on the subway platform. 

It was in a retail store on Queens Boulevard.

Yes, riders on the world's largest transit system, who are supposedly protected by America's largest metropolitan police force, can only hope that their attacker leaves the subway and runs past a Chinese restaurant (or a nail salon or a pawn shop) that just happens to have a camera pointing toward the sidewalk. If not, the criminal will go free. 

The lack of cameras in the subway has been noticed by The New York Times and the Daily News. Reporter Pete Donohue wrote in the News that in a certain high-crime area in Queens,
The fried chicken joint has a camera just inside the front door. The adjacent mobile phone store has two. The deli next door has four. The Queensbridge Houses have 358.

The number of cameras in the nearby subway station: zero. In fact, only 111 or so stations in the 468-station system have cameras focused on public areas.
Although the News mentions the supposed lack of funds as a major factor explaining the absence of cameras and the Times writes at length about the technical difficulties encountered in an on-going, years-long project to install a high-tech video system.

Let's consider what would happen if a sufficient number of cameras were promptly installed throughout the system, cameras of the type now found throughout America in hundreds of thousands of stores, gasoline stations, bank branches and fast-food restaurants—simple, relatively-inexpensive devices that produce records that can be examined if something happens. What if such cameras were pointed at every platform in the system twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week? What if simple cameras were installed at the front of every train, perhaps in the window of the motorman's cabin pointing forward, recording events on the track ahead, including events immediately before a train strikes someone? What if cameras were installed between cars, cameras that could record what happens to passengers who, like Tanya Middleton, try to move from one car to the next?

This is what I think would happen: the reported crime rate in the subway would skyrocket. All those people whose unwitnessed deaths which, in the absence of cameras, could be glibly dismissed by officials as "accidents" because they were "walking on the tracks" or "fell from the train" would suddenly be seen as victims of horrific crimes.

That's what I think is the real reason there are few functioning cameras in locations where crimes (other than fare-jumping) occur and why I doubt they will ever be installed unless major changes are made in the management of the transit system: thousands of simple surveillance cameras would function as crime witnesses, rendering inoperable the fiction repeated whenever someone is now killed on the subway tracks and there are no witnesses, "The police have no reason to suspect criminality."

Thousands of recording cameras would create an enormous problem for MTA/NYPD management. They know that and they have embraced the simplest solution.

No cameras? No problem!

 © 2014 by James Graham



No comments:

Post a Comment