New York City is estimated to have as many as 40,000 public and private surveillance cameras watching over its streets, outnumbered only by London and the Chinese city of Shenzen. According to City Limits, that number could soon rise. Just weeks after announcing plans to duplicate Lower Manhattan’s post-9/11 “Ring of Steel” in Midtown, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly voiced the department’s intentions of expanding NYPD video surveillance: “We definitely want cameras throughout the city.” The so-called “Manhattan Security Initiative” would blanket Midtown with surveillance cameras and install 500 new Argus wireless cameras throughout the entire borough if the NYPD receives federal funding, including $75 million from the Homeland Security Grant Program.

While the NYPD makes moves to increase camera surveillance, there’s still no answer about what, if any, checks and balances will protect the privacy of law-abiding New Yorkers. The NYCLU also raises legitimate concerns about the department’s use of terrorism anxieties to “justify sweeping initiatives that have nothing to do with terrorism.”

But worst of all, it’s not clear that these broad surveillance programs even work. Studies in the U.S. and Britain show cameras offer no deterrence for violent public crimes. And while surveillance cameras can be handy for identifying criminals, particularly cops on the wrong side of the law, they don’t always help: despite countless surveillance cameras, police have no idea who bombed the Times Square Army recruiting center last year. The shortcomings of surveillance cameras leave experts like NYPD officer turned Professor Eugene O’Donnely questioning the value of expanding the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative across the borough as the police shrinks. “Especially with terrorism, it’s hard to tease out the value of these programs.” |City Limits|

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