Eyes on the street: NYC buildings weigh whether to install surveillance systems

By Alanna Schubach  | September 20, 2016 - 1:06PM

The man suspected to be behind last weekend's explosion in Chelsea and bombing in Seaside Heights, New Jersey has been apprehended after being seen planting explosives on a surveillance video, reports the New York Times. CCTV footage seems to play a major role in criminal investigations in both real life—almost immediately after the blast Saturday night, viewers around the world could watch videos of it transpire—and in the popular imagination (grainy black-and-white film of his wild evening figured largely in the trial of Nasir Khan on the HBO show The Night Of.

Security cameras were pivotal in the arrest of Ahmed Khan Rahami, and in light of incidents like the one in Chelsea, many co-op and condo boards throughout the city are eager to up their own safety measures. Previously, the Times covered the installation of cameras in private NYC buildings, where they are "the sole line of defense for small, unmanned walk-ups... privacy concerns go out the window." 

Mary Ann Rothman, executive director of the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums, notes that her own building has 16 cameras, some indoors and some facing the streets. "I think there's going to be more and more talk about [installing security cameras]," she says. "Sadly, we are worrying more, and seeing how much it helps to have them. It means you're not only protecting your own building but also contributing to your community." 

In an op-ed for the New York Daily News, Bryan Schonfeld explains that the NYPD can tap into about 6,000 street cameras, part of a surveillance system that was beefed up in the wake of 9/11. But there should be even more, he argues, citing London's far more extensive network, which he writes would strengthen the police's ability to fight terror, as well as help determine culpability in murky criminal cases. 

Not everyone is willing to put their faith into video surveillance. The NYCLU's Surveillance Camera Project mapped the cameras throughout Manhattan and found 2,397; these cameras, the project's authors argue, represent an "infringement on our right of anonymity and to move and associate freely." And the ACLU further casts doubt on the efficacy of CCTV, arguing that the expense of security cameras outweigh their benefits, and that they may be used by their operators for nefarious purposes, including racial profiling and voyeurism. 

But the technology behind security cameras continues to advance, perhaps to the point that the devices no longer even need someone monitoring them: according to the Cooperator, a publication focusing on NYC's co-op and condo buildings, some surveillance systems are beginning to incorporating video analytics that detect motion and send alerts on their own. Increasingly, Big Brother—whether he's an actual person or a CCTV sensor—has an eye on New York's streets. 



Alanna Schubach

Contributing writer

Contributing editor Alanna Schubach has over a decade of experience as a New York City-based freelance journalist.

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