It’s good to have a Big Brother to watch over you
I’ve always preferred riding the New York City subway system to Chicago’s. The former’s platforms always seem to be better lit, and there always seem to be transit cops nearby. Rarely, if ever, do you see a Chicago cop while waiting for a train. Plus, no matter what time of day or night one is riding, New York’s stations — at least those in Manhattan — always seem to be teeming with people. Not so in my town, not even in the Loop, Chicago’s downtown business district. There are few things as unnerving as a desolate subway platform, especially late at night.
My preference for the Big Apple’s rails might also have something to do with my narrowly avoiding a mugging on such a desolate Chicago platform roughly a quarter century ago. On this particular evening, I had worked very late. We were redesigning the magazine for which I was working and were behind on the project, so the art director and I were trying to catch up. We left the office together at about 9 p.m. The entrance to the subway was right outside the building. He went down the stairs. I crossed the street and headed to a convenience store to grab a soft drink for the long trip home. As things transpired, my Mountain Dew addiction paid big dividends.
I only was in the store for a few minutes, but that was all the time it took for my co-worker to be robbed at knife point. It happened so fast that it was over by the time I reached the subway platform. The muggers and my co-worker had vanished into the night and I didn’t find out what had happened until the next morning when the victim recounted his tale of terror. Apparently the muggers had been lurking in the shadows of the platform and my co-worker had no idea they were even there until it was too late.
It has been years since I thought about that event. But my memory was jogged by a recent news story that reported that Chicago had completed the installation of 1,800 video-surveillance cameras at city train stations. That brought the number of deployed cameras to more than 3,000.
Chicago arguably is the most aggressive city in the country when it comes to using video as a crime-fighting/crime-prevention tool. In addition to the cameras installed at its rapid-transit stations, the Chicago’s Operation Virtual Shield program has blanketed the city with fixed surveillance cameras. The city also has red-light cameras and is planning to add cameras that will be able to discern whether a motorist is speeding. This latest wrinkle is causing a bit of consternation, but I like the idea, mostly because I’m always the guy who’s doing the speed limit and getting flipped off as everyone else zips past as if I’m standing still. I would love to see these cameras nail some of these people.
Some probably wonder whether Chicago has crossed the line. The idea of Big Brother still creeps out a lot of people. But I don’t think you can have too many cameras. Video is a great tool for solving crimes, and it’s only going to get better as camera resolution, compression schemes and facial-recognition software all continue to improve. More important, video is a great crime deterrent. I think back to that night so long ago and wonder whether the muggers would have been so bold if they knew their every move was being watched, or at least recorded.
Maybe, maybe not. But there is one thing of which I am certain: When the speed-detection cameras start to do their thing, it won’t take long for people to start slowing down. That’s good because — with apologies to James Bond — on America’s roadways, speed all too often kills.
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