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Winnipeg installs cameras in downtown core

ImageThe City of Winnipeg became the latest Canadian municipality to install surveillance cameras in public spaces when a pilot project recently began in the central core of the Manitoba capital.


March 4, 2009
By Peter Caulfield

The plan is to place a total of 10 cameras in six different locations
that have high rates of crime, vandalism and other forms of civil
disorder. The locations are downtown — outside the main branch of the
public library, on the perimeter of a park and in front of a shopping
mall on the city’s main shopping street — and along a stretch of Main
Street north of its well-known intersection with Portage Avenue.

The cost of the project is $460,000. At the end of the year-long pilot,
the cameras could be scrapped or possibly extended to other troublesome
parts of the prairie city.

Police say they hope the cameras will help reduce crime, create a
feeling of increased safety and give them a new tool to investigate
crimes.

In an announcement, Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz said, “My focus has always
been to improve public safety for all Winnipeggers, so I am pleased
that the Winnipeg Police Service is currently installing [the
cameras]… We are working to create as safe a downtown as possible,
and over the next year… the goal is to explore whether closed circuit
cameras can help us accomplish that.

“We talk about getting to live downtown, work downtown, play downtown,” Katz said. “In order to do that they need to feel safe.”

Winnipeg Police superintendent Gordon Schumacher said the cameras are
intended to act as tools to assist the police with their investigations
and not as replacements for police officers on the street.

“The reality is that video surveillance enables an intelligence-led police presence in a 24/7 environment,” Schumacher said.

Police say they are taking privacy concerns into account. The video
from the cameras is being kept for less than 96 hours and only a select
few officers will have access to it.

Winnipeg is not the only Canadian city to install surveillance cameras
in public spaces.  In fact, their use in this country appears to be on
the increase. According to a recently released report (January 2009) on
camera surveillance by the Surveillance Camera Awareness Network (SCAN
— a group of university academics in the Department of Sociology at
Queen’s University, in Kingston, Ont. ), at least 14 Canadian
municipalities are using surveillance cameras to monitor people in
public spaces and another 16 are considering them or have considered
them.


For example, Ottawa has set up surveillance cameras along the Rideau
Canal, and Edmonton installed cameras along its main street, Jasper
Avenue. In Toronto, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) started
installing cameras on subways, buses and streetcars in 2006. The move
prompted a complaint by U.K.-based privacy advocate Privacy
International
that the cameras were an unnecessary intrusion and not an
effective crime deterrent. The complaint led to a report by The Privacy
Commissioner of Ontario, released in March 2008, that approved the use
of the cameras, but with recommended  limitations, including keeping
video data on file for no more than 72 hours unless  required for an
investigation and using encryption software to disguise faces.
For its part, SCAN is doubtful of the benefits of camera surveillance in public spaces.

“At best, deterrence [of crime] can be achieved only in select
locations, like parking garages,” the group’s website says. “Current
evidence… suggests that cameras typically fail to deter activities
that people fear most, like bombings and beatings, and are useful only
in prosecutions if footage can establish guilt.”

SCAN says a more likely consequence of camera surveillance is that
crime and undesirable conduct are displaced into neighbouring areas
once cameras have been  installed.

According to the group, “Cameras appear to be less a guarantor of
security and more a commodity aimed to generate profit for private
security companies and camera manufacturers.”

But another academic, Professor Neil Boyd, of the Department of
Criminology at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., says
surveillance cameras in public places have their place.

“Surveillance cameras can be useful to gather evidence after a crime has been committed,” he says. “That’s their main value.”

Despite the purported negative impact of surveillance cameras on
privacy, Boyd says there is no expectation of privacy in a public space
in Canada anyway.

“We do, however, need to ensure that surveillance cameras, if deployed,
are not misused,” he says. “We need to be concerned about how
municipalities use the images from the cameras. The relevant issue is
not privacy, but the need for a regulatory framework to prevent the
misuse and abuse of images taken by cameras.”