People walking through Iowa City’s Pedestrian Mall will soon be videotaped 24 hours a day.
But experts and local business owners disagree on whether the cameras will have any effect on crime.
The Iowa City Downtown Association has been working on a plan to install cameras on private businesses this spring.
Leah Cohen, the association’s president, said the proposal will be to install eight cameras as a way to deter crime.
But, says Brandon Welsh, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University, closed-circuit television has no effect on deterring crime in town centers. He told The Daily Iowan in December that his research showed cameras decrease vehicle crime in closed parking structures, but that’s as far as any deterrent effect goes.
Local business owners, however, sharply disputed this notion on Monday.
Cohen cited Dubuque as a town in which cameras have contributed to a drastically lowered crime rate, though no Dubuque officials could be reached to confirm the statement.
Local businessman Marc Moen told the DI in December that crime in his businesses has dropped since he installed cameras.
Lyombe Eko, a UI associate professor of journalism and mass communications, said people in public places such as the Pedestrian Mall have no expectation of privacy under the law. Though it’s not illegal, he said, civil-liberties groups may raise privacy concerns.
“Surveillance is not part of American culture, but since 9/11, it has begun to spread through the country,” Eko said.
Cohen said the tapes will not be available to the public, including herself, but they can be retrieved by police if incidents occur. The cameras will record 24 hours a day and be erased every seven days, she said.
Lynn Walding, the administrator of the agency, said he favored the project, but he was waiting on all the details to see if the Downtown Association’s proposal meets the requirements for the annual grant.
Cohen said the association has committed to a three-year pilot project, and it will establish a list of criteria to assess if crime is being reduced. She said she hopes the surveillance will make the Pedestrian Mall a place for anyone to use without fear.
But Eko said some people are uncomfortable with being watched everywhere they go, and the cameras will be one of several reasons he’ll likely avoid the Pedestrian Mall.
“Cameras inject a new dimension to the Pedestrian Mall, and I don’t think it will ever be the same,” he said.
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