Police Want Cameras Downtown

The Charlottesville Police want to install 30 cameras to monitor your every movement while downtown, Seth Rosen writes in today’s Progress. The two city councilors contacted for the story both expressed unease at the proposal, with Kendra Hamilton citing George Orwell’s “1984.” The cost of the cameras alone is estimated at $300,000. It’s my understanding that the crime downtown is quite low, in proportion to the population, a result of there being so many eyes on would-be criminals most of the time. Wouldn’t it make more sense to propose an CCTV installation in the areas with the most crime?

36 Responses to “Police Want Cameras Downtown”

  • I’ve got a proposal: turn ’em into webcams. They would still function as security cameras, but without all the nasty power-imbalance psychosocial side effects traditionally associated with CCTV.

  • Matt Carson says:

    Gee Waldo, you don’t want to discuss the “recent spate of assaults” that the DP bravely mentioned in the above cited article?

    Common speculation is that the town boosters and NAACP don’t want this in the news. You bailed out too, with your comment that “crime downtown is quite low.” People are regularly being severely beaten in the area between the mall and Garrett Square… errr… Friendship Court… Supposedly these appear to be gang initiations.

    Of course the police want to put cameras in this area, they just can’t say it out loud, and they have to propose placing cameras in other areas too. Can’t go around ‘profiling,” can we?

    How about some news and publicity on the assaults? Lots of people would like to be able to safely use Garrett street at night to walk to Belmont.

  • Matt, why would you assume that I’m a part of some massive conspiracy? Why not, instead, use this as an opportunity to arm me with the facts that you believe I’m missing out on? Write something up, pepper it with links to relevant news sources, and e-mail it to me. I’ll publish it on the front page of this very site. Or you could do nothing and continue to chalk it up to me being part of a secret cabal.

    A decade ago, I was walking from the Downtown Mall down to Rose Hill with a pair of friend when we were assaulted by a large group of teenagers as an apparent part of a gang initiation. Believe me, I’m not unfamiliar with this problem, nor am I unsympathetic to the victims.

    Yet I still fail to understand how putting cameras on the Downtown Mall will help reduce crimes being committed two blocks away. The article’s description of where the cameras are proposed to be placed versions my understanding of where these few crimes have been committed don’t seem to have much (or any) overlap. I also can’t understand why we’d spend $300k on cameras. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to spend have as much on three new officers assigned to the problem areas?

  • DontBelieveTheHype says:

    Camera’s downtown?! Been there, done that.


  • DandyTiger says:

    I thought you were part of a secret cabal Waldo. Would you please teach me the secret handshake? Shhhhh.

    The first thing about this article that jumped out at me was the price. 300k for 30 cameras! That’s 10K per camera. Admittedly there’s some up front cost for a service center for monitoring. But given the falling price of digital surveillance systems these days, that’s way over priced. Just off the shelf systems of digital cameras and digital recording/monitoring systems that could handle 30 cameras would come to around 30K. Total. And that’s retail. And that includes fancy motion detection. Hello government people, someone’s trying to overcharge you. Oh wait, maybe that’s part of the expenses of the secret cabal showing up.

    And of course the big issue is big brother. Stories from the UK of camera surveillance of every square inch of urban and suburban UK are really scary. We really don’t want that here. It is strange that it’s not were the crime is too.

    I like the idea mentioned of making them webcams though. I’d like to see all police camera systems public. That way we can all watch the police as much as they watch us. It is our money after all. What are they trying to hide? If they weren’t doing anything wrong, they wouldn’t have a problem with us watching in.

  • Perlogik says:

    Let’s make it even cheaper. Let each building they want to use pay for it’s own camera and have a public site where anyone can look at the feed. It’ cost the city pracitally nothing and we can watch the watchers.

    I really think this is a terrible idea and would best describe it this way. Let’s point the first camera at the first amendment monument.

  • Blanco Nino says:

    personally, i like the idea. if you’re not doing anything wrong, what have you got to worry about? the price does suck tho. but, what more would you expect from a city that spends $10,000 on a friggin’ tree every christmas? glad it won’t be my tax dollars paying for it.

  • if you’re not doing anything wrong, what have you got to worry about?

    You’re cool with me installing some webcams and streaming the video on cvillenews.com, then?

    but, what more would you expect from a city that spends $10,000 on a friggin’ tree every christmas?

    I wouldn’t expect much at all. But, then, I’ve never heard of such a city.

    Charlottesville once spent that much on a fake tree, figuring it’d ultimately be cheaper than getting a cut tree every year. But it was vandalized, and the city collected the insurance, so the tree only cost whatever their deductible was. Now they just get somebody to donate a live one every year.

  • Jan says:

    I work on the mall. I’m not thrilled about 1984 coming to our city BUT I’m also a little freaked out when I have to walk alone to the parking garage in the dark. Having been all over the world, I am NOT a scaredy cat. And, unfortunately a camera won’t keep anyone from being assaulted. Some big time police is what is necessary. I sit right on Central Place and can go for days and days without seeing a cop. DAYS. It is the side streets going to Water and Market that are not lit well and that are dangerous.

    And, there have been a whole lot of beatings and folks getting knifed, usually late at night at the bars. I just want to know what city council is going to do about it. Cameras won’t keep people from being hurt.

  • Jan says:

    BTW I did write Norris about this very issue of the problems on the mall and received no reply. So either he didn’t GET my email, decided I was not important enough to write back, or didn’t have a solution. Now, many months and many beatings later, here we have come full circle. STILL talking about this. And I know a lot of the street vendors down here get robbed a lot. Unfortunately those folks have no clout with the city. Why I don’t know since they pay a nice tidy fee to the city to be allowed to set up their tables.

  • urbanitas says:

    I think cameras do keep people from getting hurt. Most crimes are committed by people who think they can get away with it. If its virtually assured you’ll get caught, many people would behave better. I know I would.

    I think its clear that most downtown crime happens off the mall. But, they can’t go installing cameras between south street and friendship court because certain groups would call that racial profiling. So, they propose them on the mall first, then expand later to where they really wanted them in the first place. Does that sound about right?

  • Dave says:

    I wish we could one day have a conversation about government oversight without people uttering the words “big brother” or “1984.” Seriously, have we no other reference points, here?

  • Jan says:

    I’m not sure the crimes happen in the middle of the downtown mall in full view of the public and cameras. That’s why this probably isn’t such a hot idea because of the profiling issue. The crimes happen off the beaten path, in the dark where no one notices.

  • Jan says:

    Evidently not Dave.

  • mandy says:

    I live in Belmont. I work downtown. I walk down Garrett at least twice a day (to/from work plus anything else I might care to do downtown ’cause cars are lame and walking’s fun). Very rarely do I ever feel unsafe. I could scare myself thinking about other stories and possible scenarios, but when I actually am realistic about what’s going on around me, there’s hardly ever any real threat. At the same time, I realize that no amount of cameras will stop me from getting assaulted if somebody gets it in their head to pick on me.

    While I understand the psychological push for camera surveillance, why not buy a few fake cameras and focus on a real theft/crime/vandalism/assault deterrent: foot-traffic. The problem is, you have this super-dense, highly trafficked and patronized pedestrian mall, but as you move away from that area, the amount of folks “out and about” drops down to practically nothing. Let’s talk about mixed development, residential and commercial — the kind of stuff which involves its community and where people tend to want to look out for it and each other. I little too idealized? Maybe, but $300K on cameras would just be throwing good money at a bad idea.

  • Chad Day says:

    you want foot traffic on Garrett Street?

    you can hardly get traffic on the SIDE streets of the downtown mall. the shops off on the sides of 5th and such are basically dead zones, aside from maybe kiki’s at night?

    that’s going to take a lot of work to get going. people walk down 2nd and 3rd not just because of what’s there, but i would imagine mainly to get over to the x-lounge, south street, bang!, etc. what’s to walk to if you go down 4th/5th/6th? pretty much nothing.

  • personwho says:

    Why not spend the money on raising the salaries of our police so we can fill vacant positions and on adding more police to the police force? The presence of a police officer is a much bigger deterrent than any camera. I bet people who live in Friendship Court who are in the paper complaining about violence, not about profiling, would appreciate more police presence in their neighborhood to keep them and their visitors safe. It’s a little rich to say people will complain about profiling before anyone has actually done so. Everyone wants to be safe, residents of public housing included.

  • van says:

    Police solve very few crimes without the assistance of informants, or if you don`t care for that word, leads and reports from citizens.

    Cameras are merely another law enforcement tool (informant). I see little difference in observation by a camera or by a police officer or citizen, except perhaps the cameras are less fallible.

    When I hear the cry “Big Brother” I try to understand why, if, for instance, we had thirty more officers on foot patrol, that is not a “Big Brother” activity, but 30 cameras is.(I know there are pros and cons as to effectiveness of each but I speak only to the “Big Brother” aspect) I personally trust the observation by a camera (presented as evidence) more than a casual witness or officer for that matter (I`m speaking of instances where IDs are at the heart of a case.

    Besides, with the addition of the civil levy on top of the normal fine for traffic infractions, we need our police on traffic duty so some poor smuck can pay $1200 or so because he was speeding. This is effective 1 July or thereabouts, is it not?

  • colfer says:

    I hadn’t heard about that.

  • mandy says:

    Chad: You’re exactly right, it would take a ton of work to get going. What I’m mostly talking about is crime prevention through environmental design (or, CPTED; lots of Wiki info here, which I found through this Neighborhood Crime post) and specifically, in terms of Charlottesville citizens, thinking a little differently than we have been in the past.

    CPTED relies on many different factors to actually function properly, but one aspect applies to personwho and van‘s comments. People, as in citizens, actually do a pretty good job of surveilling themselves. Making sure that there is a defined public space is effectively the same as having a camera: if someone who is about to behave badly thinks s/he will be seen doing it, they are less likely to actually engage in that behavior. So effectively, if you go about design and infrastructure such that you reduce the nooks and crannies in which crime can occur (the low-lit areas and boarded up windows), you reduce crime. Or, say, if you have a closed, dark storefront near a community center in which folks hang out much later than business hours, there is effective surveillance without the need for video cameras and/or a lot of extra brute force.

    But don’t take my word for it. It’s all there in those links.

  • pdp8 says:

    It also seems to me like too much money for cameras. But as a resident of Belmont who used to walk Garrett St, I know we must do something. I just wish I knew what. I totally do not feel safe anywhere besides being directly on the mall itself. I walk over the bridge to get back to Belmont, but I realize even this isn’t safe when you’ve got little thugs applying for gang membership. It makes me angry that you can’t feel safe and walk the streets in your own neighborhood. I guess the only good outcome is that city housing prices will start to fall quickly now.

  • HollowBoy says:

    Nix to cameras on the Mall. It is too Orwellian, and besides it seems most of the crime occurs adjacent to the Mall, in dark, isolated areas, late at night. Would cameras even show anything in darkness. I have no problem with security cameras in a bank, for instance, but on the streets-that is just too creepy.
    What we really need to deal with the crime problem is first acknowledgement that it does exist. Someone mentioned that he got no reply when he contacted a council member with his concerns about the problem. Does not surprise me,have not seen anything from candidates for council stating that crime is a problem.
    What we need is a mayor like Rudy Giuliani, someone who will get tough on “quality of life” issues like public drinking,trespassing, littering. For instance, there is the element that hangs out in Maplewood Cemetery, drinking, littering,staying there at night after hours.And of course there is the unsavory element that hangs out in Lee Park and the Downtown Library(and I don’t mean the freaky kids,the skaters,goths,etc),these are adults. And now we have gangbangers.
    Forget the White House, Rudy. Come to Charlottesville, we need you to clean up the town.

  • Blanco Nino says:

    Charlottesville once spent that much on a fake tree, figuring it’d ultimately be cheaper than getting a cut tree every year. But it was vandalized, and the city collected the insurance, so the tree only cost whatever their deductible was. Now they just get somebody to donate a live one every year.

    nuts to you for ruining my quip with pesky facts. :)

  • Jack says:

    I don’t believe that the cameras would be effective at preventing crime. The type of people responsible for the type of crimes at issue go in and out of jail anyway. The idea of maybe getting arrested and spending a few nights in jail doesn’t really scare them. They know they aren’t going to be there for long.

    Even if they do get caught on camera, so what? Will there be a close-up of their faces? No. It will just look like a guy of whatever race wearing baggy pants and a big white t-shirt. Nothing that would be likely to lead to an arrest or a conviction.

    The real problem is police manpower and budget. Everyone I have ever known in Charlottesville who was a victim of a crime has a story with a crappy ending. Waldo, did anything ever happen to the kids that assaulted you those years ago? What about the drunk driver who rear-ended you and fled the scene? You positively identified him. He had a criminal record of petty crimes a mile long and yet he walked away with no real consequences. Were you happy with how the police were able to handle that? Evidence certainly wasn’t the problem.

    My sister was mugged at gun point right downtown a few years ago. She got a good look at their faces and was able to identify them in a line-up. But nothing ever happened. No conviction.

    Somebody opened fire on my car about 5 years ago with a handgun and when I called 911 the cop who responded wouldn’t even write up a report, let alone try to do anything. Because he was just overwhelmed with calls to respond to and didn’t have time for the paperwork. Given everything else that this guy had to deal with, I can’t say that I blame him.

    So I think that the cameras are a waste of money. They won’t result in more arrests or convictions and they won’t get these repeat offenders off the street and into prison for the long-haul where they belong. The only thing that is going to change that is more cops on foot patrol and more resources being devoted to investigation and prosecution. *That* is what we should be spending this $300,000 on. Police officers’ salaries.

  • Waldo, did anything ever happen to the kids that assaulted you those years ago?


    What about the drunk driver who rear-ended you and fled the scene? You positively identified him. He had a criminal record of petty crimes a mile long and yet he walked away with no real consequences.

    He paid a $75 fine. That was for drunk driving, rear-ending me at 35mph while I was stopped at a light (totaling the car), and fleeing the scene. For his troubles, he gets a happy birthday wish on that propane store’s sign on Long St. every year.

    My sister was mugged at gun point right downtown a few years ago. She got a good look at their faces and was able to identify them in a line-up. But nothing ever happened. No conviction.

    Let’s not forget the DNA evidence.

    The police are over-worked and under-staffed to deal with the criminals that they do manage to ID. If we’re going to spend $300k on law enforcement, salaries have got to be a better outlet than cameras.

  • “The police are over-worked and under-staffed to deal with the criminals that they do manage to ID. If we’re going to spend $300k on law enforcement, salaries have got to be a better outlet than cameras.”


    Any City Council candidates want to take this ball and run with it?

  • chris2059 says:

    Forget the cameras, buy a reliable handgun, practice with it and become proficient, get a concealed permit, keep it where you can get to it in a hurry, but safe from children and theft when stored, and walk the streets with no fear….I do, and I go anywhere I please at anytime with no worries. The police are there to arrest the person who does you harm after the fact, there aren’t enought of them to go around to protect all of us from the thugs who could care less about themselves or you. A camera will just serve to videotape your beating or murder. Scenario: you are walking down the street home at night some thugs are coming up behind you and you know you are going to get beat down, draw your gun and carry it in your hand, you think they want to try to kick your ass now??? Sorry for the dose of reality,and to rock you out of your fantasy of the C-ville utopia of peace and love. But you and your family’s personal safety is up to you and just you, just ask any cop who has been on the streets for a while.

  • CvilleDan says:

    Gee that’s some powerful stuff quoting the Hook. The journalism standard for the area. Let’s quote what we hear in the bathroom as news.

  • Jack says:


    My father-in-law was a Charlottesville city cop on a foot beat in town for years. And he would probably agree with everything you are saying. I myself have a number of firearms, including a Taurus .38 ultralite for personal protection.

    That said, not everyone should own or carry a handgun. It is an enormous responsibility and unless one is prepared to practice regularly and able to exercise the constant mental discipline of gun safety, it is best not to carry a firearm. Not that I’m saying they should be legally barred. Just that it’s not the best decision for everyone.

    An urban society needs to make policy that protects everyone from violent crime. I don’t think the cameras will help, but as a matter of policy we cannot just shrug and tell everyone to carry a weapon. There are plenty of people who do not and should not carry firearms who also need to be protected. To those who do carry, good for us and we should also take responsibility for the safety of other people around us if they are in need.

  • Mike W. says:

    Jack, I agree. But I also think that those of us who are capable of stepping up to the plate and providing for our own protection should not be penalized because some people cannot take responsibility for themseleves. Unless you’re part of a VERY select few who for reasons not of their own making truly CANNOT protect themselevs, then I say that we are NOT under any obligation to go out of our way to protect you.

    The biggest problem these days is no one accepts responsibility for their own well being. Everything is someone else’s responsibility.

    Resistence is NOT futile … resistence to criminal acts is the biggest deterrent to future crime. When you comply with the criminal’s demands you’re screwing the “next guy”, just as the previous victim who complied screwed you.

    Now, I know the bleeding hearts say that you wallet is not worth your life. True. But there is a lot more than the theft of your wallet going on when you’re mugged. If someone doesn’t understand that I certainly cannot explain it.

    Also – I take issue with the statement that people who carry weapons should take responsibility for those who choose to be sheeple and walk around oblibvious and unprepared. Almost everyone has the same opportunity as I to step up and take responsibility for their own protection. Why should I risk everything on behalf of someone who probably isn’t even a 2nd Amendment supporter? What hipocracy! They can get their own damn gun, thank you.

    Remember what’s going to happen when you pull the trigger. You are going to kill someone. You will forever be a person who has killed someone. In Charlottesville, you are CERTAINLY going to be arrested on the spot, regardless of your “self defense” claims. Your gun is going to be confiscated and you will never get it back as it will forever be “evidence.” Your home will probably be searched, and your family and friends interrogated. You will certainly spend the night in jail. You will need to hire a lawyer familiar with self defense cases. At your expense. If the DA decides that the shoot is justified, you’ll be released. In this County that is unlikely. At your trial you’ll be painted as a killer who killed an “innocent” criminal just to save your wallet. You’ll have to defend you character, your credibility, and ultimately your life. If a jury of your peers finds you not guilty (considering who my peers are in this town, also unlikely) you’ll be free to go. Otherwise you’ll probably spend several years in prison.

    After all of this – regardless of the outcome – you’re going to be sued by the “victims” family. Virginia had the opportunity to protect citizens against lawsuits of this nature last year, but decided that criminals should be able to sue their victims.

    So, think about all this before you pull the trigger on behalf of a total stranger. I am willing to go through all this for me and my own … and everyone else should be to.

    Now – I am NOT saying that no one should EVER help anyone … but keep in mind all of the above before you start playing SWAT on the Mall.

    Also – if you do ever need to use your weapon – remember these rules.

    1) ALWAYS be the FIRST to call 911.
    2) After the incident, shut the hell up. Say “Officer, I was in fear for my life and felt it necessary to protect myself. I’d like to speak to a lawyer.” The cops will try and get you to talk more – be respectful but say nothing. Your buddy cop on the scene may think you’re in the right, but he’s not the DA and EVERYTHING you say on the scene is evidence. You are also not likely to be thinking clearly at that time.
    3) Make 100% sure that once the area is safe you’re weapon is holstered or unloaded and set down. But not in your hands. That’s a good way to get shot bu officers arriving on the scene.

    Sorry for the rant but this is a topic I take very seriously.

  • Wow.

    If I have a choice between giving some poor bastard $20 and killing him, I’m going to go with the coerced charity every time. Call me a pushover, but I suspect that’s what Jesus, Ghandi, and MLK would do. And, when in doubt, I think it’s a good idea to err on the side of Jesus.

  • Mike W. says:

    chris2059 – the scenario you describe above is going to result in one thing. A brandishing charge against you.

    If you draw your gun – you’d better shoot someone.

    I’ll explain. You can only use deadly force to protect against loss of life or “grievious bodily harm” against yourself or a third party. All 50 states catagorize rape as a qualifying event here, BTW. If you draw you gun and do not fire, you just carry it or point it at them, then it can be argued that you were not really in fear for your life – otherwise you would have fired. Thus, you were not justified in drawing.

    Also – follow the AJOP rules. See: http://www.useofforce.us/3aojp/

    Note that Virginia has no “duty to retreat” laws like the pansy states up north. The exception being if you were a partner in creating the situation to being with. Simply walking down the street does not make you subject to preclusion rules in Virginia.

    You “know” you are going be “beat down.” How do you “know” – you’d better be able to articulate just how you knew, and you’d better hope that any “reasonable man” feels the same way. Were they armed and presenting a weapon? If so, OK. Did they verbally threaten your life? If so, Ok – but I’d still like to see a weapon.

    Also – being armed does NOT mean you are suddenly braver and fearless. You should not go anywhere or do anything armed that you wouldn’t do unarmed. Doing otherwise establishes the fact that you are looking fro trouble, and in addition to that just being messed up, can be used against you in court. “Sir, do you normally walk through that neighborhood alone at 2am flashing $1000 in cash?”

    If you are going to discuss self defense in a public forum, please make sure you know what you’re talking about. You are giving bad advice that someone just may try and follow. There is no room for “armchair commandos” in the CCW world. True practicioners of a self-defense midnset go out of their way to avoid trouble and disolve conflict – but are prepared to deal with it if it comes along. That doesn not include automatic compliance with criminal demands … but it does mean that we shouldn’t TRY and find trouble just so we can shoot someone. IMO you statements make you one of the guys that Jack, above states should not carry a gun at all.

    I am not a lawyer but try and read up on the laws. It’s my responsiblity as a person who carries a gun to do so. I have also taken several real defensive handgun and AR-15 classes – and these classes cover a lot more than just hitting the target. I suggest you take some.

  • Joe Lawson says:

    I really wish the city wouldn’t waste its money on the cameras. Giving the cops better pay and perhaps more on the foot patrol would go a long way for discouraging crime. Those who say, “Why do you care if you have nothing to hide.” This is exactly the attitude that leads to abusive policy and oversight. If people aren’t doing anything wrong why don’t we put cameras surveying every door step. Track every person, that way when you do something wrong, we’ll have all the evidence necessary to convict you. I’m sorry but I enjoy living in a country that assumes that you are innocent and doesn’t go out of its way just to police the citizens.

    We do not need nanny law and oversight.

  • cville_libertarian says:

    These cameras are as offensive as it gets – Big Brother indeed! If they truly are ‘just another tool’ for the police, then it’s absolutely imperative that the

    My days of hanging out on the Downtown mall late at night were back in the 80s, and I expect things may have changed somewhat. Garrett Square certainly hasn’t; indeed, if anything, the Real Estate Boom which helped drive the gentrification of Belmont has, on average, improved the whole area. So I call BS on the “gang crisis” crap. However, back then, there were plenty of beat cops out. You could count on passing at least one walking between Central Place and the City Hall garage or Eastern Standard.

    As bad as the cameras are, the increase in the number of wild-west cowboy wannabes is even worse. I am a gun owner and believe in the 2nd Amendment, but this is just nonsense.

    If the problem is lack of qualified police applicants or the funds to hire them, then let’s cut some of the wasteful spending Gary O’Connell buries in each budget, and use it to improve compensation for the force.

  • Alex H says:

    Two nights ago I would have agreed with most of the “Big Brother” posts. However last night I was sucker punched in the face by a youth while walking accross the Belmont bridge. This was around 10pm totally unprovoked. I heard from a police officer that I was not the only person assulted last night. When incidents like this become personal I believe many of the people who appose this would change thier mind. I have no idea what my assalant looked like, it all happened so fast. The police officer really couldnt help me because I had no description of the young man. I have to wonder if a camera in the right location could have helped.

  • Dan Kachur says:

    Same thing happened to me, at Pantops Shopping Ctr. a few years back. And I still don’t want cameras downtown or Pantops or anywhere else. I guess I just value my liberty more than avoiding a sore jaw.

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