Downtown Businesses Plan Security Camera Network

The Downtown Business Association is plans to install security cameras throughout the Downtown Mall, Brandon Shulleeta writes in the Progress. Having tried and failed repeatedly to get the city to pay for it, now business owners are looking to install cameras themselves, presumably mounted on private buildings, pointing at public space. DBA co-chair Bob Stroh says that it’s necessary to keep people safe, as a deterrent against crime, and that the group would provide video to police upon request. The group doesn’t yet know how much it’ll cost, and it’s not particularly clear that it’s necessarily going to happen.

Let the record show, for those who read this story in years ahead, that crime downtown is not particularly an issue. People aren’t afraid to go downtown, there has not been a spate of burglaries or assaults, and of all areas downtown, the Downtown Mall itself is surely the safest.

37 thoughts on “Downtown Businesses Plan Security Camera Network”

  1. Lets take one side of one block on the mall. Just 1 side of 1 block. Say, the last 12 months.

    One worker was assaulted. Neighbor business people heard her screams and were able to pull the man off her while he was repeatedly slamming her head onto a concrete floor. She was hospitalized. Took some cleaning but the blood did come out of the concrete.

    One shop was broken into twice. One of the times the burglars were interrupted by the bad timing of one of the owners who was picking up his car after a show. Glad the owner was big and with friends. My wife often does this at our shop. What if it was her and my daughter instead of 4 big guys walking onto bad guys with bad intent?

    Another shop was broken into and had the contents strewn about the alleys behind it.

    More than once, multiple car burglaries.

    At least 4 separate acts of vandalism.

    Sadly, all true. Happy to give you the deets via email if you wish. Perhaps you could update your story to be a bit more balanced and reflect that the cameras are not to intrude on you, but to protect the property and lives of those who invested in the mall.

  2. You can also have a look at: to get crime statistics for downtown.

    I searched for:

    ALL Incidents
    Location Type: Police Neighborhoods
    Location: 02 – Downtown
    Start Date: 2/11/2010
    End Date: 2/10/2011

    Somewhat illuminating to see the types of crimes perpetrated downtown. 248 reported crimes during that time period.

  3. I don’t think anybody is claiming that crime doesn’t exist downtown or, indeed, anywhere. I live way out in the middle of nowhere, but have a Crime Reports account set up to send me an alert whenever there’s a crime within a couple of miles of house. I get such an alert every few weeks—robberies and assaults, mostly.

    Perhaps you could update your story to be a bit more balanced and reflect that the cameras are not to intrude on you, but to protect the property and lives of those who invested in the mall.

    Dan, I’m not understanding what you’re saying here. Where did I state or imply that the cameras exist to intrude on people? Or that the purpose isn’t to protect property or lives?

    You’re not implying that these cameras are intended solely to surveil private property, are you? Because that can’t be true—otherwise Stroh wouldn’t be defending the idea of deploying “a vast network of security cameras” by saying that “if you’re in public, you’re on camera,” and that people should not expect privacy in public places.

  4. Its when you say “crime is not particularly an issue” that you seem to negate the fact that it IS the reason for the cameras. And when you modify it with “let the record show” and “years ahead” that you come down negatively on the cameras.

    Assaults and burglaries are occurring. I would go so far as to say that based what I have written, does meet the burden of definition for “spate.”

    The cameras are being put out to protect private property via the surveillance of the properties and the surrounding areas. One camera pointing down a back alley covers every business on that alley. And when bad guys see those cameras they are far less likely to try and break into those businesses.

    There is no expectation of privacy in public. The words are not synonyms.

  5. What does it mean to say that “crime IS the reason for the cameras”? Bob Stroh says that crime is the reason; it’s also possible that the perception of possible crime is the reason for the cameras. In other words, cameras as security theater–“look, people-scared-of-the-Mall! we’ve installed cameras! you’re safe! come down and spend your $$” to me, that’s different than saying patrons on the Mall are actually unsafe in statistically significant numbers, which I don’t think anyone (including Bob Stroh) has proven.

    I go down to the Mall a lot–probably on average twice a week during daylight hours and on average every other week in the evening hours. i’m female, and often I have my young children with me. I park in the parking garages and surface lots and side streets. i’ve never felt menaced; i’ve never witnessed any menacing. to me, danpri’s recounting of incidents of vandalism and burglaries and assaults (with just his word on all the details) and his conclusion that this is a dangerous “spate” of violent incidents that justifies security cameras recording the movements of random passersby reminds me of those hysterical parents who see an account of a kidnapping and draw the conclusion that they can’t let their kids out to play because “all these kids are being kidnapped these days! it’s not safe!”

  6. “And when bad guys see those cameras they are far less likely to try and break into those businesses.”

    I very often see words like these in connection with this kind of debate, but I’ve never been shown any evidence that it’s true. Please understand that I’m not claiming it’s false. It does seem commonsensical, but then it also seems commonsensical that the death penalty would have a deterring effect on violent crime, which, to my limited knowledge, it does not. I’m just wondering if anyone knows of any strong statistical evidence for or against. Has there been a Virginia city that has installed these in a neighborhood similar to our Downtown Mall and a manner along the lines being suggested here? Maybe we could look at the relevant crime statistics before and after?

  7. “There is no expectation of privacy in public.”

    This simply isn’t true. We surely have expectations of privacy in public. For example, a police officer could stop me on the Mall because she suspected me of a crime. No one would call that unusual or offensive to my rights. But if she then chose to strip-search me on the Mall in front of passers-by instead of taking me to the station or inside some convenient building, I (and many people) would be surprised and angry. I have an expectation of privacy about my body even in a circumstance in which I am under suspicion. I don’t claim that I know where the boundaries of personal privacy lie inside the public sphere. Great jurists disagree on that topic. But I think it’s misleading to claim that no one can have any privacy whatsoever the moment he or she leaves his or her property.

  8. The Hook has had a camera on the Mall for a long time. Interstates have cameras on them. ATM’s have cameras on them. I just hope the Mall merchants publish the IP addresses on the web so we can all enjoy them. If a criminal happens to be caught in the process then thats just frosting on the cake.
    I guess the real test will be to look at the statistics a year after the cameras are installed, and see if there has been any change in the locations of the crimes.

  9. Why spend all the money ahead of time and invade everyone’s privacy for a year and THEN look at statistics to see if there is any deterrent effect associated with security cameras? There must be research out there on this matter; if I were a business owner on the Mall and Bob Stroh was asking me to chip in $$ for the security cameras, I would want to know AHEAD OF TIME that my money would be well spent. So either I would do that research myself, or I would ask Bob, as head of the business owners association, to do it.

  10. I noticed that the stats map has a peculiarity. The neighborhoods are exclusive of eachother. Downtown (02) excludes the Mall (01). You have to select BOTH Downtown and Mall to see the combined results.

  11. @Cecil: I find it highly unlikely you would be crying hysteria had these instances all happened in the two houses next to you, or had it been one of your family members having their head pounded into the floor.

    @Soroka: I remain convinced that if burglars come walking down the back alley up to no good and see a working camera recording them they are FAR less likely to break into a store. You seriously disagree with this?

    @Soroka: “A. Video Surveillance Of Public Streets.
    1. The Prevailing View: Video Surveillance Does Not Violate The Fourth
    Individuals have no reasonable expectation of privacy on public
    streets and thus their activities are not protected under the Katz
    test.”Generally, one walking along a public sidewalk or standing in a
    public park cannot reasonably expect that his activity will be immune
    from the public eye or from observation by the police.”

    It simply IS TURE. Please try and bring arguments based on rational thought and not knee jerk reactions.

    Curious if anyone posting here actually has a biz on the mall that they are at 100% risk?

  12. @danpri: of course I would be freaked out and hysterical if my neighbors were attacked in the same way that you describe. My hysteria, though, doesn’t constitute evidence of spate or a spree or anything. When that couple in Richmond (and their two little girls) were brutally murdered in their own basement a couple years ago, I was really freaked. I contemplated the whole gamut of increased home protection options. But I was also aware that statistically speaking I was at no greater risk than I had been before. Generally speaking, I think it’s bad policy to allow one small group’s anxieties to drive policy for the larger group. So, pointing out that “you’d be scared too” doesn’t then lead to the conclusion that this measure is actually justified by any concrete and objective measures–like evidence that security cameras actually deter crime.

  13. @danpri:

    Of course I disagree. It’s just as obvious that a person contemplating murder will be dissuaded by the knowledge that he or she could be executed for the act. It’s obvious, but it’s not apparently true. If surveillance systems like the one proposed, deployed as the one proposed would be, really do have a deterrent effect, it should be very easy to show it. I agree with Claire that the onus of so doing ought to fall on Bob Stroh.

  14. @danpri

    I don’t know whence you are quoting that material, so I’m unclear as to its relevance or strength or bias. In any event, I’m not particularly interested in the limits of the law. I don’t want to live my life at the limits of the law, and I doubt anyone else does. Out expectations regarding privacy in a public space are clearly not cut-and-dried, or our society wouldn’t be holding so many debates like this one (e.g. whether or not various kinds of scanning equipment in airport terminal security checkpoints violate privacy, whether and how computer equipment can be searched without a warrant, etc.).

    While I don’t work on the Mall, close friends of mine do own a business there and other friends work there. To subtly suggest that anyone who doesn’t own property on the Mall is disqualified from opining on this subject does not strengthen your case.

    Lastly, please don’t suggest that my arguments are not “based on rational thought” or are “knee jerk reactions”. It’s rude and doesn’t help anyone think through this question.

  15. Aren’t there security cameras in convenience stores all over America, and don’t robberies continue to happen at convenience stores? Aren’t there abductions where the abductor forces the person to go to the ATM and withdraw cash even though there are security cameras at ATMs? The “bad guys” know this just as the “good guys” do, and yet they continue to rob convenience stores and stand menacingly behind their abductees waiting for the ATM cash. I think danpri is overestimating the degree of rational thought that goes into a fairly desperate act like robbing a convenience store etc. I think if you’re in the zone of humanity that would seriously consider burglary or mugging, you’re de facto not in the zone of rational pre-planning.

  16. What’s stopping me from putting a “security camera” on my mailbox pointing out towards the road I live on? I mean, so what if I did? Would the “onus” be on me to prove that the camera served some greater purpose? The proposition seems silly on its face.

    These private business owners are choosing, at their own expense, to install cameras on their private property. Is there really an argument that this is somehow improper? Why isn’t my privacy “invaded” by the numerous and ubiquitous cellphone cameras that exist in public and could conceivably make a digital image of me?

    It certainly does seem to be a knee jerk reaction to postulate that a camera installed to provide security is therefore a threat to privacy. I don’t see how it is, frankly.

    I will give absolutely no thought to my behavior on the downtown mall whether or not there’s a camera recording my actions.

    re: “I think it’s bad policy to allow one small group’s anxieties to drive policy for the larger group. ”

    What “policy”? This small group’s anxieties are driving the small group’s decision to purchase objects and to place these objects on their private property. Can you find the clause in the constitution, Virginia state code or Charlottsville ordinance that forbids this?

  17. What’s stopping me from putting a “security camera” on my mailbox pointing out towards the road I live on? I mean, so what if I did? Would the “onus” be on me to prove that the camera served some greater purpose? The proposition seems silly on its face.

    Folks who research this kind of stuff (generally the kind of people who study Foucault) find that there are two elements that are necessary to make such proposals of concern in a privacy sense: scale and interconnectedness. If one person has one camera (as I do, at my home—a webcam…though it’s pointed only at private property), so what? There’s little concern there, because there’s little possibility of mischief. And if one organization has a whole bunch of cameras, but they’re just storing tape in the individual camera—not feeding video back to a central location—to be pulled in case of an incident, then people are generally OK with that. But if one organization establishes a network of cameras, with the ability to track people’s movements throughout a broad areas, and the willingness to dig through that data for the purpose of penalizing people, now you’ve got something that’s getting into Big Brother territory. That’s where people become uncomfortable.

    It’s the difference between me knowing when you’re standing in front of my home, and me always knowing where you are. The former is boring, the latter is scary. That’s what people are concerned about in matters like this.

    I will give absolutely no thought to my behavior on the downtown mall whether or not there’s a camera recording my actions.

    Not yet you won’t, but you might. For instance, this group might use any of the available software packages that identify “suspicious” actions. You might tell somebody that you’ll meet them on 2nd and Main, but fail to specify which 2nd and Main. So you walk back and forth for a while, figuring you’ll catch them eventually. Ah, but that’s suspicious. So you’re flagged, tracked, the police are alerted, an officer shows up, and now you’re being questioned about where you’re going, what you’re up to, and if you’ve got any ID. Why? Because some cameras saw you and figured you were suspicious. You won’t be likely to do that again—you’ll change your behavior.

    Can you find the clause in the constitution, Virginia state code or Charlottsville ordinance that forbids this?

    You’re attacking a straw man. Nobody has proposed that it’s illegal. There are all kinds of things that are legal, but are still really bad ideas. Fred Phelps and crew could march up and down the Downtown Mall waving “God Hates Fags” signs. It’s perfectly legal, but they’re still assholes for doing it.

  18. re:”and the willingness to dig through that data for the purpose of penalizing people”

    There’s the rub. We’ve gone from private businesses installing private security cameras to an organization “penalizing people” for what, exactly? When have downtown businesses displayed a willingness to penalize people for no reason? I don’t see it. Yeah, it’s possible that really bad people could take these video tapes and do something damaging with them to somebody at some time, but it seems far fetched.

    And your hypothetical regarding the police is possible, I suppose, but highly unlikely. And it’s highly unlikely that the police, responding to such a complaint once, would continue to treat these complaints seriously. And it’s certainly untrue that it would alter MY behavior, although I suppose there are those that could be intimidated by a routine police stop.

    It’s a good thing that people would want to make sure that privacy is respected and hold these “camera owners” feet to the fire. But until something bad related to these cameras actually happens, I’m unconvinced that they’re a really bad idea or that these business owners are assholes for installing them.

  19. @A. Soroka: You seem to be taking your examples to the extreme. There is a definite difference between recoding someone in a public open place and strip searching them in the same place. Maybe we should agree that there are different expectations of privacy.

    While most reports seem to say that cameras don’t do much to deter crime, at best they move crime. With today’s camera’s though they can definitely assist in solving crime. The most important thing though is that most people believe that they deter crime and that they are safer with cameras. So maybe someone who is skittish of going downtown at night would be more likely to with the cameras.

    If i were in control, i would set up a series of high resolution web cameras that are publicly accessible. For a reasonable price you can get high quality cameras that have nigh vision along with software on them to automatically find action in their field of view and zoom in on it. This is great for times when the mall has very few people on it and crimes are more likely to occur. Selling them as webcameras that are publicly accessible might belay some of the big brother fears. The video can be kept for 24-48 hours, which should be enough time to review them after a crime.

  20. unless, of course, “failing to see the issue” you happen to be a young black man who is trying to find his friend and is pacing the mall between 2nd and Main. I suspect that behavior would continue to count as suspicious in the eyes of many passersby, as well as the police.

  21. “Maybe we should agree that there are different expectations of privacy.”

    That was exactly my point, so I’m glad to read you making it more succinctly and clearly than I did.
    Another question then arises (amongst many): whose expectations count for how much? It seems to me that there are at least several groups of interest here: merchants who agree with Bob Stroh, merchants who do not, customers who agree with Bob Stroh, customers who do not, and people who may be neither merchants nor customers but who have a right to use the Mall because it is public space par excellence, who may or may not agree with Bob Stroh. It seems to me that all of these groups have some stake in this question (whether or not they have a legal right to intervene is not relevant).

  22. Of the potential customers who are currently not shopping on the DM because they perceive it to be unsafe, does anyone know with any kind of objective accuracy how many of them WOULD come to the DM and spend money if there were cameras? I’m picturing people in this (mythical?) category and honestly I’m wondering if these are Mall-spenders to begin with. If you’re afraid of a quasi-urban space with panhandlers sitting around, parking garages, and a couple of lower-income housing communities nearby, I’m not sure you’re a Mall-spender to begin with. Once the money is spent on the cameras and they’re in place, perhaps there would be another scary issue: young black men scary hair walking about freely, or a panhandler with a sign.

    I’m wondering if part of this isn’t Bob Stroh wanting to appear like he’s Doing Something to help out his constituency, without any real research going into the idea. It sounds like he and some other mall-business owners are looking for something to pin their tough economic times on and they’ve all decided that the lack of security cameras is the problem.

  23. “The big question is will these contribute to an increase in rear-end pedestrian accidents?”

    Pedestrian rear-ending in the city’s alleyways would generally be better described as hastily arranged rather than purely accidental.

  24. Here’s a timely article: “Study Chicago’s Blue-Light Cameras? Why Bother“:

    After seven years and thousands of cameras, neither Chicago’s police nor its public officials can claim that their video surveillance program, Police Observational Devices (PODs), is effective at stopping and preventing crimes. This shouldn’t be a surprise, though. After sifting through mountains of crime data provided by the police and observing two Chicago neighborhoods, the Urban Institute, a public policy think tank in Washington D.C., couldn’t say how well the cameras were working. What may be surprising, however, is that the police department looked into this twice before; they never shared the findings and evidence suggests no one will ever know if the system is truly effective.

  25. re:”you happen to be a young black man who is trying to find his friend and is pacing the mall between 2nd and Main”

    Not sure to which part of my posts this is supposed to be in response, but I’ll assume it has to do with the “routine police stop” comment.

    Let me point out that I think the hypothetical is far-fetched to begin with. I think the notion that these cameras will somehow keep people from peaceably assembling is one based on conjecture and not reality.

    Anyone that spends time on the DTM in the summer knows that one of the main activities is for people to walk up and down ad nauseum. Another big activity is “hanging out”.

    If your opposition to the cameras is based on the notion that these activities will somehow be criminalized or discouraged by downtown businesses or the police, I think your opposition is based on fantasy.

    If you’re making a statement that the cameras could be used to further an atmosphere of hostility towards African Americans, I think that your opposition is misguided. As noted in your comment, passersby would/could also find the activity of pacing at 2nd and main suspicious (although I honestly don’t know why). Conceivably they too could call the police? Or are you suggesting that the cameras will necessarily be racially profiling?

    African Americans hang out on the mall now, just like people that don’t happen to be African American. People of all stripes walk up and down, pace, run, etc, etc, etc, all on the DTM. I fail to see how the cameras will discourage any of this, frankly.

    If you’re saying that your hypothetical African American is waiting for his friend at 4 am, then I would suggest that the police could be interested in his activities. But then, they’d probably be interested in anyone loitering at 4 am.

  26. Wow, you guys are idiots.
    I’m on the mall everyday! I work here.
    I don’t care if cameras are here. If it makes the shopowners feel better let them have them.
    You can’t truly measure whether crime goes down when cameras go up, there are too many variables to consider.
    If you don’t like the cameras, stay the hell off of the mall.
    The End.

  27. Hey, that’s great, Jeff. I wasn’t really convinced, but after a persuasive argument like that, I’m totally in favor of the cameras. Now that I realize that I’m an idiot, that I should stay the hell off of the mall, and that it’s totally fine if the cameras have no effect on crime rates, I understand your perspective and bow to your superior knowledge.

  28. The Jeff from 2/17/11 @3:17pm is not the Jeff from 2/12/11 @8:42pm. Earlier Jeff does not share later Jeff’s views.

  29. @later jeff: While i would agree with the “if you don’t like what a business does, don’t patronize it” idea. This is a bit different, because the downtown mall is actually a city park.

  30. Sorry Waldo I wasn’t trying to convince you and my comment wasn’t directed towards you in particluar.
    Was there something you disagreed with or what?
    Danpri gave ACTUAL examples of crimes that have happened and then people immediatley starting railing against why we shouldn’t have cameras.
    Just rediculous!
    I’d like to hear your actual view of for or against.

  31. The cameras will be on the buildings. Besides, the Hook has had a camera up on the mall for quite some time and I haven’t heard anybody complaining.

  32. Jeff, I’m not personally offended by your remarks, in the sense that they were directed at me—I’m offended by your very poor use of rhetoric and faulty logic. :) In my experience, not only does insulting people usually fail to change their minds, but it actually gets them to harden their positions, and sometimes gets people who are on the fence to side against you.

    Dan’s examples of crimes are interesting, but they’re just anecdotes—a very poor basis for public policy. Dan’s anecdotes and people’s opposition to cameras simply have nothing to do with each other. If you were opposed to the death penalty on religious or moral grounds, and I gave you examples of really bad guys who have been put to death, that wouldn’t make any difference to you—we’d be talking past each other. Because you’re (again, hypothetically) interested in issues of morality—abstract issues—and I’m giving examples that fail to take your moral opposition into account—with concrete examples.

    I’m not sure that I have a useful view for or against, Jeff. As private businesses, they have every legal right to do whatever they want. As somebody who long lived, worked, and owned businesses downtown (three in all), I find their proposal creepy, anti-social, and invasive. It’s certain to be an enormous waste of money—their money, so it’s their business—and isn’t going to prevent any crime. At best it’ll move the crime elsewhere. But, again, there’s so little crime on the Downtown Mall anyhow that it really doesn’t matter. Why the low crime? Because that’s where all of the people are, and where all of the people are is a really lousy place to commit crimes, because people are watching.

    You asked what I disagreed with, of what you wrote. Well, sure, I can be specific. It’s these two things:

    You can’t truly measure whether crime goes down when cameras go up, there are too many variables to consider.

    That’s foolishness. By your logic, the entire field of criminology and, indeed, sociology is impossible. What you’ve done is just said “there are no data that can possibly prove that cameras are ineffective.” You might as well have written “don’t bother me with the facts—I’ve got my mind made up.”

    If you don’t like the cameras, stay the hell off of the mall.

    And, dear God, this. I can play this game, too: If you don’t like the lack of cameras, stay the hell off the mall. Period. That’s not a line of reasoning. That’s a logical fallacy wrapped in hard-headedness sprinkled with “love it or leave it.”

    It’s just not possible to have a useful discussion about a topic—particularly one as complex as this—when one party says “I’m not open to information that could disprove my point” and “I’m right and if that’s a problem for you, get lost.”

  33. Your right!
    I thought Dan’s examples were real.
    Looking back it was a mistake to write that stuff.

  34. Well, Jeff, I don’t want to be unfair to you or Dan—I have every reason to believe his examples are real. When I say “anecdotes,” I mean that they are stories that cannot be held to be representative of a larger trend. Folks who tend to draw conclusions anecdotally might say “my father had a Ford and it was a great truck, therefore Ford makes the best trucks.” Whereas folks who tend to prefer larger data sets say “Consumer Reports’ survey of several thousand car dealers, truck owners, and repair shops found that Toyota trucks are the most reliable, therefore Toyota makes the best trucks.”

    There is nothing inherently wrong with either kind of thinking, but if you prefer the anecdotal approach, then you may well believe that Dan’s examples mean that surveillance cameras are necessary. If you prefer an analytical approach, then you may well agree with those who say that crime levels downtown don’t seem to merit any sort of surveillance and, anyhow, there is little data showing that cameras reduce crime.”

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