As a crime reporter for the Vicksburg Post, I accompanied Vicksburg city officials to New Orleans on July 6 for a presentation on a new surveillance system the city was considering adopting. Since then, the College of Mayors and Aldermen has voted in favor of a contract to install around 60 cameras across the city.
The system is operated by Project New Orleans, a non-profit organization that strives to provide law enforcement with cost-effective surveillance equipment to operate more effectively.
The technology is truly remarkable. The cameras record video at a slightly lower resolution than 8K. Bryan Lagarde is a criminologist and executive director of the NOLA Project and spoke to city officials about the capabilities of the cameras. During a protest, he showed previously recorded footage of a suspect who was about a block away from the camera. Zooming in, he was able to show that the make and model of a firearm in the suspect’s belt was clearly identifiable.
Much of the system is automated, organizing information about the people it registers and compiling it into a database. Law enforcement officers can then easily search the database for an individual’s video footage based on the clothes they’re wearing, time of day, and location, among other automatically generated tags. The advantage this gives to law enforcement is obvious. The system provides an incredible amount of information that can be easily searched and accessed, even if an officer is not on the scene when a crime is committed.
Streaming footage has its pros and cons, though. The images on one of the demo monitors of a woman standing in her driveway looking at her watch, unaware that it was recorded, were a little unnerving. The cameras are designed to be on and recording at any time.
The motivation for the city to adopt the camera system is to combat major crimes like shootings and burglaries. The system would be extremely helpful in doing this.
Even still, the adoption of cameras makes one wonder what purpose they will serve for five or 10 years. I can’t help but wonder if it will eventually be used to enforce less serious offences.
I often see drivers around Vicksburg huffing through stop signs and speeding through neighborhoods. At times like these, I find myself wishing for a “handy cop.” With recorded video and automated marking of license plates on vehicles, it looks like pursuing these violations with the new camera system would be quite simple.
It’s easy to imagine that cameras would continue to be added if they proved effective and costs continued to drop.
Digital camera technology has evolved at a rapid pace over the past few decades, and there’s no sign of it slowing down. Manufacturers continue to achieve higher megapixel counts and higher dynamic range at lower prices. Internet bandwidth needed to store data will continue to get cheaper. Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) will result in greater accuracy and higher volume in the automated collection of an individual’s location and identification information. As a journalist, I often use an automated transcription service that can quickly produce a transcript from an audio recording with surprising accuracy.
These technological advances have gradually blurred the boundary between our private and public lives. Conversations that would have been private in the past effectively become public records on social media. Data collection is so automated and simple that it almost becomes an afterthought.
I like the idea that the Vicksburg Police Department has the resources to catch violent criminals more easily. But the fact that it is becoming increasingly normal for our lives to be automatically recorded and cataloged, with and without consent, is something we should be wary of.