While choosing a topic for my piece in today's paper, I noticed that the Texas governor was installing webcams to monitor the Mexican border. (Apparently, they have an immigration issue down there...who knew?) Even better, the footage would be fed to the Internet, and citizens would be allowed to watch, then call in a toll-free number when they see something amiss. Cool! This could very well be the most brilliant use of free labor since Nike put its first swoosh on a sneaker (then a t-shirt, and a ball cap, and...)
London spent oodles of money a few years back installing a downtown camera surveillance system. In a classic London move, the footage is actually watched eight hours every night. Over the course of the other 16 hours, the footage is sent into oblivion because no one ever thought that staffing the thing 24/7 might be a Good Thing.
As is typical of my burg, good ideas like the Texas webcam thing are often completely ignored. We live in a fishbowl covered with a thick, opaque substance not unlike crystallized honey. We're patently unable to learn from the best practices of others unless they are wrapped up in a pretty little bow and gently deposited on our doorstep.
I was out of bows when I wrote this. But I thought no one would look a gifthorse in the mouth no matter how badly it was packaged. Here's the piece from today's paper:
Texas plan might boost surveillanceYour turn: Are webcam-vigilante-citizens the answer for controlling crime and keeping folks on the right side of the border? Would you welcome such a program in your city?
Published Wednesday, June 7, 2006
The London Free Press
Do you want to become the eyes and ears of our city? Do you want to help London save money as it decides what to do about downtown video surveillance cameras that sit idle for 16 hours a day? The governor of Texas has come up with an interesting idea.
Rick Perry has proposed installing web cameras on the state’s border with Mexico. Live, around-the-clock video feeds from the cameras would be made available over the Internet. Regular citizens could log in from home and watch. If they see any illegal attempts to cross the border, they’ll be asked to call a special toll-free number.
Although London doesn’t have much of an immigration problem, the idea of citizens watching the city from the comfort of their homes has merit. It wouldn’t cost appreciably more because the cameras and supporting infrastructure are already in place. We could even use the novelty of our new network to boost tourism.
Sure, it sounds crazy. But so does spending six-figure amounts on cameras that sit idle.