Big Brother in Minneapolis

An alternative title I was considering for this post was The Redistribution of Crime. The Minneapolis police department have started fielding temporary surveillance cameras which they claim will cause criminal activity to go elsewhere:

The portable cameras, more than the fixed ones, seem to make criminals take notice, he said.

“They behave similar to the way they behave if they saw a cop standing on the corner,” he said.

The combination of video and lights disperses unruly crowds quickly, he said. That helped during the University of Minnesota’s Spring Jam, and the cameras have been used at everything from the Uptown Art Fair to the Basilica Block Party and a festival at the LynLake neighborhood this summer, he said.

Note that no claims of preventing crime have been made regarding these mobile cameras. The intended goal appears to be move criminals from area to another area that isn’t currently covered by one of these portable cameras. Considering the astronomical cost of these units I would personally want a bit more than redistributing crime to different parts of the city:

“They’re awesome,” said Rugel, who keeps a board in his office that lists the locations of each of the portable cameras. Rugel said the city has had at least one unit since the Interstate 35W bridge collapse in 2007, but had purchased six more this spring. They cost about $29,000 apiece, according to city records.

At $29,000 a-fucking-piece these things should be able to apprehend criminals and make me breakfast in the morning. According to the Minneapolis website the salary for a new officer ranges between $45,539 and $50,207. The city currently owns seven of these $29,000 cameras costing them a total of $203,000. Had that money been spent to hire new officers the city of Minneapolis could have had four more hands on deck (obviously this excludes the cost of benefits but the cost of the cameras also excludes maintenance). I would argue that a trained police officer is going to be a far more effective tool then a camera. Whereas cameras can only record criminal acts police officers at least have a chance of stopping a crime and are far more useful in the traditional police duty of cleaning up after the criminal.

It should go without saying how Orwellian these cameras are. As the article states deploying surveillance cameras on public streets is perfectly legal. The important issue to note though is that a camera on public property can see what’s happening on private property. I’ll let Bruce Schneier explain the need for privacy and why you should be concerned about these mobile cameras being deployed on your street:

Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we’re doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance.


For if we are observed in all matters, we are constantly under threat of correction, judgment, criticism, even plagiarism of our own uniqueness. We become children, fettered under watchful eyes, constantly fearful that — either now or in the uncertain future — patterns we leave behind will be brought back to implicate us, by whatever authority has now become focused upon our once-private and innocent acts. We lose our individuality, because everything we do is observable and recordable.

Just because an activity is legal now doesn’t mean it will be legal tomorrow. In addition to that it’s not unheard of for authorities to prosecute somebody for an activity they did before it became illegal. And even if one isn’t prosecuted for a previously legal but current illegal activity public ostracizing is a real threat. The concern about any surveillance isn’t so much the present but the future.

Personally if one of these cameras are ever deployed near my residence I will use my rather entertaining laser to blind the device while it looks towards my dwelling. While it may be legal for the police to deploy the camera on a public street I in no way consent to these devices looking into my domicile. If they don’t want the camera to be blinded then they can kindly point it elsewhere.

One thought on “Big Brother in Minneapolis”

  1. You certainly have a point about moving the crime elsewhere.

    It’s a little like self defense and awareness making you look like less of a victim. Walk with your head up, like you have a purpose and are sure of your destination. pay attention to your surroundings. Don’t look like a victim. Convince the criminal to choose another, easier, less aware target.

    In Roseville, they’ve used something similar at Rosedale Mall. They’re literally moving the crime elsewhere by making the Rosedale AMC a less attractive venue by trying to get the rowdy or likely violent crowd to self select a different venue.

    This works somewhat because there is a limited supply of first run movie theaters. I suspect there are a limited number of attractive (Location Location Location) open air drug markets. Given the recent escalation on the North side and the likely nature of small, geographically identified cliques in a rabid retribution cycle, the cameras could prove more effective in keeping the criminal activity suppressed.

    It’s a bit like when MPLS started geo-tracking prostitution and vice. It effectively moved the markets but they moved to more visible locations where stings could occur or to locations with less in and out traffic.

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