When a Columbia-area teenager was assaulted in June 2011 by several people, the assault and images of the assailants were captured on security video.
The Orangeburg Department of Public Safety now has two surveillance cameras operational in the Russell Street area, an addition officials say is not in response to a problem but a move to prevent one.
“These are the same cameras that have been used in the Columbia Five Points area,” DPS Chief Wendell Davis said. “We got them on a trial basis to see what their effectiveness is. They’re unique in that they cover a 360-degree area.”
The cameras have been up and running for about three months. While they haven’t captured a car chase or an assault such as that against the Columbia teen, police say they’re doing their job.
The hopes are that the extra eyes will serve as a deterrent to crime and as a sort of security blanket for pedestrians and shoppers in that area.
“These things are very obvious, and we want people to know they’re there,” Davis said. “So they do have a deterrent factor associated with them.”
But the cameras also serve as a security measure for pedestrians after dark. Many systems are not effective in the dark, but Davis says these cameras still produce good video even in low-light. That works well for pedestrians and theater-goers who are out in the area late at night. The video is as clear as a daytime shot.
“We thought the installation of cameras would make people feel more secure,” Davis said.
Remote cameras have been in use since World War II when German scientists monitored progress on the V-series rockets. Their usage to monitor the public sector went into larger European cities and New York in the 1960s.
Critics of the camera systems object to government watching a citizen’s every move.
Several organizations keep tabs on the use of surveillance cameras, including Big Brother Watch, a British-based civil liberties group. The group published a report in 2011 of the abuses by law enforcement in England.
Davis points out that security cameras are already used here in both the private and public sector, including home security systems and the cameras found in banks.
Officials say the difference in the Russell Street cameras is they are only monitoring the public sector.
Also, the cameras are not constantly being watched by a live person 24/7. They simply record what’s going on and are available if a particular period of time needs to be reviewed.
“The fact of the matter is that if it’s in the public place, there’s not a right to privacy,” Davis said. “This is the same thing as is in Washington, D.C.; New York, or London.”
The cameras can help identify suspects quickly.
In the Five Points case, the suspects turned themselves in within hours of the video being made public.
Another case that supported the use of cameras in public was in 1993 when 2-year-old James Bulger was kidnapped from a shopping mall. His mutilated body was found two days after he went missing.
Security video at the mall showed two teenagers leading Bulger away from his mother who had been momentarily distracted.
As of now, there are two cameras in Orangeburg. They were placed on Russell Street as a testing area and are subject to being moved, based on crime statistic analysis, officials say.
Negotiations are going on now to obtain several more cameras, including one for the Edisto Memorial Gardens area.
“Ideally, we would love to have more,” Davis said.
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