For those privacy advocates who have been questioning the expanded use of security cameras throughout our country, it is time to face the new reality. There is an acceptance of the ubiquity of cameras in today’s world. After the Boston Marathon bombings, there was a quick identification of two suspects as a result of pictures taken by security cameras. This resulted in the apprehension of one suspect and the death of the other.
Picture for a moment what would have happened without security cameras. Witnesses would have been asked to report suspects carrying suspicious packages, and law enforcement would have released verbal descriptions of the suspects (height, age, weight, race, clothes). Some witnesses would have helped in the creation of artist’s sketches of suspects.
The process of sorting through all of the witnesses from the crowd of spectators and identifying likely suspects could have taken weeks. Any person who would have been apprehended based on such a sketch or verbal description would have been subject to a lineup. Thousands of suspects could have been "rounded up" and interrogated about their activities that day. In the meantime, the bombers would have been free to continue their bombing, which might have included Times Square.
Furthermore, there would be a lot of uncertainty about the identification of any suspects that were apprehended based upon eyewitness identification. The Connecticut legislature’s Eyewitness Identification Task Force had hearings on the reliability of eyewitness identifications. At those hearings representatives from the Innocence Project, which has used DNA to free wrongfully convicted individuals, testified that of the 306 cases in which wrongful convictions were overturned, more than 75 percent of the convictions were based in whole or in part on eyewitness identifications. The task force was instrumental in drafting legislation that established procedures for conducting lineups. But even with the best procedures, studies have indicated that up to 15 percent of witnesses will identify a "filler" as the perpetrator of a crime. The fillers are volunteers for a lineup who were nowhere near the scene of the crime — and could not have been the perpetrators.
While security cameras do not always get perfect pictures, there has been no study showing that photos from those cameras have ever been the cause of any wrongful conviction.
Cameras in public places make everyone more accountable for their actions. The expansion of the use of cameras now includes cameras on police cars, and cameras worn by officers. The Town of Milford, Conn., acquired tiny video cameras for police officers to attach to their sunglasses. Those cameras record the conduct of both the police officer and anyone being arrested. Police departments throughout the country have been using dashboard cameras to document the behavior of individuals fleeing the police, but these cameras have also documented cases of police officers using excessive force or other misconduct. In 2009 a Connecticut police officer sped down Boston Post Road at more than 90 mph, and crashed into a car occupied by two 19-year-olds, killing them both. The crash was captured on another officer’s dashboard camera and played a key role in a jury convicting the officer of misconduct with an automobile and reckless driving.
Security cameras have become accepted in our daily life. Any time anyone goes into an office lobby, bank, or to an ATM machine they should expect to be on camera. Any time they go into a convenience store, they should expect to be on camera. Any time someone goes to a public event in New York City they should expect to be on camera. For the police, any time they make a public arrest they should also expect some onlooker to be filming it.
The New York Times recently conducted a poll which found that 78 percent of the public said placing security cameras in public areas is a good idea. Clearly, there is widespread support for security cameras based upon their effectiveness in high-profile cases like the Boston bombing.
As a society, we must be prepared to accept more security cameras in public places. It is time to face the new reality of our society. Cameras will be everywhere and that can result in greater apprehension of criminals, a higher likelihood of accurate convictions, and a safer society.•