CCTV camera pushes crime into blind spot

Jan. 7, 2009
Criminals in Michigan town shift activities out of camera's range

To those living in view of the police security camera at Cecil and Jewell drives on the city's north side, the camera has really cleaned up the neighborhood.

But residents who live just out of the camera's range tell a completely different story.

"Now what happened is the drug dealers have went on the side streets because the camera just does not get down those side streets," said Curtis Baker, president of the Northeast Carpenter Road Neighborhood Association. "We have a drug house on just about every street now."

Interim Flint police Chief David Dicks said he wants to buy 50 more cameras and put them up in each of the city's nine wards. He's still looking for funding for the project.

So far, there are just two cameras watching over Flint streets, the one at Cecil and Jewell and a new one that went up in December downtown near Saginaw and Court streets.

Experts and police say displacement of crime is one problem with security cameras. Other studies indicate that while the cameras may slightly reduce property crime, they have little to no impact on overall crime statistics or violent crimes.

Before the city's first security camera went up at Cecil and Jewell in August 2007, the area was called one of the city's worst neighborhoods.

Drug dealers lined the streets, and their customers would drive up and down the roads at all times of the day. At night, residents reported hearing gunshots and fights.

Within months after the camera was installed, the area near Carpenter Road had undergone a drastic transformation. The camera currently is not monitored live at the police department, but officers can watch the tape if needed.

One landlord who owns 30 homes in the neighborhood said that prior to the camera's installation, only criminals would live in the neighborhood. Now, he said, it's a much nicer, quieter area to live.

On Friday morning, his words rang true. Very few cars drove through the area, and several houses were decorated for the holidays with lights and bows.

But the landlord, who declined to give his name, said streets such as Roseanna Drive, Daniel Drive and Webster Road now have the drug trafficking and crime that was so prevalent before on Cecil.

Those streets look like a different neighborhood.

While the streets there also were quiet Friday morning, many of the homes were boarded up, and decorations were scarce.

"The camera did what it was designed to do and chased the crime out of that area," the landlord said.

But for those living just out of the area, that's little consolation.

One elderly resident said that since the camera went up, drug dealers now park just outside her Roseanna Drive home.

Her daughter, who visits every day, said it's scary to see.

"You can sit by the window and watch it go down," she said, concerned that the increased drug trade could lead to more violent crimes.

According to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union, that's not unusual.

The report looked at several studies on security camera usage in England and the United States in cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco and found that the cameras had "no impact on crime."

Several of the studies also showed that while property crime was reduced within 100 feet of the cameras, those types of crimes, as well as violent crimes, increased farther out of camera range.

Dicks said he is aware of those issues.

"Right now, we only have one camera there, and the bad guys are used to it," Dicks said. "So what have they done? They've moved."

Dicks hopes to combat that problem by installing cameras that can swivel in place or be moved to other areas as needed. The one at Cecil and Jewell is stationary.

He said there also will be more police patrols in certain areas.

"Wherever the bad guys move, that's where we move," Dicks said.

Almae Evans, who lives near Carpenter Road Elementary School, said she wants to see more cameras - specifically, one at Roseanna and Jewell drives, near an apartment complex.

"There needs to be a camera there because that's where the drug dealing happens," Evans said. "(Having the camera at Cecil and Jewell) don't help over here."