TTC and the illusion of security

Post by Eric Mang in ,

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In the past few weeks, there have been a small number of violent acts committed on TTC vehicles and property. Two boys were shoved on subway tracks, a man was shot at a subway station and yesterday, a teen was shot in the hip while travelling on a bus through a sketchy Toronto neighbourhood.

The immediate reaction of officials, presumably to soothe the fears of citizens, is to announce more security. As I discussed last week, does more security actually make us safer?

Recently, I’ve noticed more black globes on the ceilings of TTC buses. These closed-circuit TVs (CCTVs) are becoming ubiquitous on buses and soon on streetcars. They’re in bank ATMs, outside shops and malls, in parking lots and entrances to buildings. Some estimates find that the average Londoner is captured on video about 300 times a day.

Whether that’s an accurate number or not, we do know that at some point during your day, assuming you live in a big city, you’ll be caught a few times on tape. For some this doesn’t matter, for others (like me) it’s an affront to privacy and civil liberties. When does it end? Will all of our actions be monitored? (“time for your morning calisthenics” says the HoloHead in my bedroom) I can ask these questions without sounding like a wild-eyed conspiracy theorist because it seems that many officials find myriad excuses to justify CCTVs. “When you get stabbed in the chest we might be able to find the bad guy who killed you!”

The question we should be asking is whether all of this security, entrapping us in the Truman Show, is worth it. Do CCTVs make a difference? Will the TTC be safer?

In 2005, the Home Office in the UK did a study on the efficacy of 13 CCTV projects.

Here are some of the findings:

Out of the 13 systems evaluated six showed a relatively substantial reduction in crime in the target area compared with the control area, but only two showed a statistically significant reduction relative to the control, and in one of these cases the change could be explained by the presence of confounding variables. Crime increased in seven areas but this could not be attributed to CCTV. The findings in these seven areas were inconclusive as a range of variables could account for the changes in crime levels, including fluctuations in crime rates caused by seasonal, divisional and national trends and additional initiatives.

Violence against the person rose and theft of motor vehicles fell in the target areas in accordance with national trends in recorded crime.

Welsh and Farrington’s (2002) review found that CCTV had no effect on crimes of violence, but a significant impact on vehicle crime.

Respondents who were aware of the cameras actually worried more often about becoming a victim of crime than those who were unaware of them. Knowing that cameras were installed in an area did not necessarily lead to a reinforced feeling of security among respondents.

So what do we find? Many variables affect crime rates and there was statistical evidence of crime reduction in only two areas (compared to the control area).

While your car may be safe, you could still be the victim of a violent crime. And it is violent crime that has the TTC scrambling for more “security” solutions; not bus graffiti.

When CCTVs were installed, citizens became more freaked out because, as one might infer, the mere presence of a CCTV sent them a message that a place could be unsafe. Counterproductive.

Before we fritter away our civil liberties and offer people a false sense of security, perhaps we should study whether CCTVs actually make buses and streetcars safer. And in the meantime, let’s keep exploring the root causes of crime.

We’ll find that addressing poverty, improving health care and education, ensuring livable wages and adequate housing do a lot to help reduce the crime that rises from hopelessness.

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