Technology changes all things, but not necessarily for the better.
The Wichita Eagle reports that there’s a controversy simmering in Wichita, Kansas, where a police officer no longer has to personally see a motorist speed, make a rolling stop, or commit another traffic infraction to pull him or her over and write out a ticket.
Instead, There are 97 cameras now oversee the Old Town area, particularly First and Washington, Second and Washington, and Third and Mead, and staffers at City Hall monitor the feeds, and whenever they see something illegal, they provide a police officer in the area with a description of the offending vehicle and the offense, and the officer then takes over.
Is this prudent, or Orwellian? Folks in the community are divided so far:
“I hope people don’t perceive this as ‘Big Brother,’ ” Wichita police Sgt. Kelly O’Brien said. “Officers are monitoring public places where you see it from public viewing. It’s just a way for officers to enhance their abilities to protect the community and improve traffic safety and also improve officer safety.”
Still, O’Brien knows not everyone will think this is OK.
“I did an informal survey before we ever did this to every friend and person I came across, and it’s a 50/50 split,” he said, mentioning that even his wife and daughter were not necessarily on board with camera-based traffic enforcement.
On the bright side, O’Brien maintains that even the temporary application of the new system during this trial period has already had a positive impact on the roads:
On Nov. 2 from 9 to 11 a.m., 88 violations were witnessed on camera, 55 citations were issued and four warnings were given.
The camera enforcement is not occurring daily, O’Brien said, but he has noticed that violations have decreased, citing “public awareness” of the cameras as the reason.
Because of this, he said there is “nothing I don’t like” about the camera-based enforcement.
He does not yet have stats to prove the drop in violations because it was “just a general observation.”
The biggest downside I can see to this is the possibility of overzealous enforcers going after people who commit harmless infractions just to meet some sort of monthly quota (although that could presumably be accounted for by not holding the the people monitoring the cameras to a quota and oversight to keep dispatchers from picking which officers they dispatch based on any criteria other than proximity to the offender).
Beyond that, though, I have to say I don’t quite see the “big brother,” Orwellian dimension to this that more libertarian types all too often see at the first sight of more proactive law enforcement. It’s not as if the cameras are looking at any private property, and if anything guaranteeing that there’s video evidence of the violations in question (the recordings are stored for 400 days, according to the report) should be good for civil liberties, taking ticket disputes out of the he-said/she-said realm and leaving unequivocal proof whether or not a disputed offense actually happened.
Do you agree, or am I way off base? Either way, let us know in the comments below!