Debating Surveillance in Charlottesville

This past weekend I was in Charlottesville, VA, a beautiful Virginian college town, which has most recently been all over the news as the location of the missing person case of Hannah Graham. While there, I noticed that in the local paper, as well as in discussions with my local acquaintances, that there is a debate within the community over the measures implemented by the city and by the University of Virginia in order to assure public safety.

In particular, it was pointed out that the only security footage the police were able to obtain on the Charlottesville outdoor mall, which showed Graham with suspect Jesse Matthews, was from the surveillance cameras of a few store owners. What about the cameras istalled in most public spaces throughout the country? Well, the outdoor mall in Charlottesville doesn’t have those.

People opposed to having the surveillance cameras in public spaces argue that the cameras are “too invasive”. Now, if there was someone in the police department whose job it was to watch the video feed from all of these hypothetical cameras, then I would have to agree with the opponents, since true constant surveillance would be too Orwellian for my taste.

However, the feasibility of that is quite low – the Charlottesville police department does not have the resources to assign an officer to watch all of the town’s surveillence footage. What would be more realistic, and less “invasive,” would be if these cameras were up and running, and the footage could be accessed at a later time if needed, like in the case of Graham’s disappearance.

In this instance, the cameras would act as more of a “back up” versus a real time surveillance mechanism. Not only would they be helpful after a crime was committed, but their mere presence could also help deter crime all together. Surveillance cameras in heavily frequented public spaces are a common security feature in the United States, and it’s time that Charlottesville catches up.