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Anthony Gehrig, Published October 27 2012

Letter: The facts on crime cameras

Opponents of Fargo’s downtown surveillance program have made various arguments suggesting it should be abandoned. Some suggest downtown business owners should be required to buy their own surveillance cameras, just like every other business in Fargo. Others argue that these cameras infringe on our Fourth Amendment rights by placing law-abiding citizens under surveillance without probable cause of a specific crime.

Proponents of the program, which include our commissioners, have made two basic arguments. One, crime in downtown Fargo is on the rise, spiking even, and something needs to be done. Two, the downtown surveillance program will deter and stop crime. These are compelling arguments. Many people, given these indisputable facts, will be persuaded into accepting the surveillance. But what if these were not facts?

After speaking in front of the Fargo City Commission regarding the downtown surveillance program, I contacted the Fargo Police Department. I requested the past five years of crime reports from “Beat 11,” which encompasses downtown Fargo. The following information was provided to me.

Total number of crimes on “Beat 11” separated by years:

Crime has decreased steadily and substantially over the past five years on “Beat 11.” In fact, 2011 boasts the lowest crime rate in at least five years.

The first news article about downtown surveillance was published in March 2012, citing an increase in crime as the catalyst for this program. Two months removed from the lowest crime year in recent history, are we really to believe in a downtown crime wave? No, especially considering crime today is still lower than in previous years, and up only slightly from the 2011 low point. Despite this revelation, some will still say government-run cameras can get crime even lower.

Fargo is not the first city to experiment with government-owned surveillance. Independent researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have reported that San Francisco’s video surveillance cameras do not make people safer. Specifically, cameras failed to prevent or reduce violent crime, including homicides. Similar reports can be found from around the world.

When discussing the safety of our community, it is far too easy to allow hyperbole and fear to dictate policy. It is my hope that our city officials will provide the residents of Fargo with the most accurate and honest information, so that the people can make an informed decision based on the evidence.

Gehrig ran for the Fargo City Commission in the June city election.