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Jeff Armstrong, Fargo, Published September 27 2013

Letter: Alarm system, not surveillance key to preventing more crimes

As the recent victim of a failed robbery attempt and aggravated assault at work, I urge caution in the rush to expand video surveillance in the workplace, and call instead for a citywide silent alarm system linked directly to the police for all businesses open in evening hours.

Video surveillance serves only as a minor deterrent to robbery and by its nature does nothing to interrupt crimes in progress. Its only real value is to help identify perpetrators after the fact, a purpose easily frustrated by the assailant wearing a mask, as occurred in my experience.

Implementation of a citywide alert system, on the other hand, would send an unmistakable message to would-be thieves that it is just a question of when, not if, the police will arrive.

Additionally, it alone offers the chance of interrupting crimes in progress. In my experience, surveillance cameras played little, if any, part in the apprehension of a singularly inept and contemptible individual (who promptly confessed to the crime while bizarrely concocting a larger crime in which he attempted to implicate me).

While surveillance cameras do little to enhance the safety of individuals working alone at night, they do serve to undermine the morale of employees already aware that the federal government is monitoring or storing for potential future retrieval every email, phone call, text or Internet post that we have made in the past two decades or so.

We need to have a serious discussion about the meaning and implications of freedom in a society in which the physical and legal infrastructure now in place could be utilized for the creation of a totalitarian society beyond the dreams of Hitler or Stalin.

Corporations, which benefit more than most of us from the protections of the Constitution, should recognize the constitutional right to privacy of their employees, and if they do not, municipalities should take the lead in pushing for a more appropriate and effective technology to prevent crimes and protect the safety of at-risk workers.