Cameras, Churches and Crime

New Orleans     Recently, two kids managed to grab-and-run with a couple of hundred bucks at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse as one created a distraction and other jumped the counter.  The neighboring grocery store cameras had great pictures of them scouting their location.  We spent a lot of time trying to give the footage to the police.  Did it stop the crimes?  Did it catch anyone?  Will the police do anything about any of this?  We all know the answers to these questions.  This is small potatoes; the cops are going to prioritize the big stuff.  We had a Google Nest in our coffeehouse.  Turned out it had never been turned on or had somehow been inactivated, which says a lot as well.

Are cameras a crutch or a real crime prevention tool?  Sometimes it’s hard to tell.  In the United Kingdom they are everywhere.  CCTV or close-circuit television is huge in China as well.  Coupled with developments in facial recognition software, privacy and civil rights advocates have warned of misuse.  A recent special section on data collection and surveillance in The Economist ran a cartoon that spoke of the weeks it would take for police to analyze camera footage and how easy it would be to misidentify people, confusing the innocent for the guilty and vice-versa.

I thought of all of this when reading about a project in New Orleans called the Partnership for Peace and Safety being launched by the Isaiah Institute to couple faith groups with local business people to put cameras in lower income neighborhoods in various parts of the city.  The project is spearheaded by a longtime local community organizer and activist, Joe Givens, and takes as its model a similar program he ran more than twenty years ago when working for ACT, All Congregations Together, in its heyday.  They have set a target of outfitting 325 cameras on local churches and then another 214 will be directed towards the streets from various congregants’ own homes.  Although the installation of the cameras only costs $150 and a monthly $15 to run the signal, the project, if fully realized, seems to have a one-million price tag, which is surprising.  Project NOLA, which has installed 2500 cameras around New Orleans since 2010 is supplying the initial cameras and monitoring, so the money used to “fund the church programming” must be significant.  Givens describes the program in one of the local papers as an “aggressive neighborhood watch” with “newer technology.”

Will it work?  Hard to tell.  Project NOLA claims their work has “helped in the investigation” of what would be an average of 333 felonies and 22 homicides annually over the last nine years, so that’s not nothing.  Just picking a random year (2015) in the middle, New Orleans has almost 19,000 reported felonies and 165 or so homicides every year, so, like any big American city, this is a mountain to climb.

Is this just a feel-good program for churches and their local business folks or something that will either retard crime or catch criminals?  That’s an open question still.  Nonetheless, this is something worth watching, and I mean that literally.

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Please enjoy Prince’s Mary Don’t You Weep.

Fall Back on the Blade by Static and Surrender.

Thanks to KABF.

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