Video Surveillance for Downtown?

The behavior of (some) late night occupants of downtown Lowell has been a trending topic in Lowell’s blogosphere with kad barma writing about it here and here; Left in Lowell here and here; and our own post here. The police have increased their presence which is a good thing; a high density of officers in uniform creates a deterrent and making arrests where appropriate at least might keep those defendants under control for a while. But the police can’t be everywhere all the time.

Is it time for the city to bring video surveillance cameras to downtown? I’m not sure I like the idea because it would be a bit of an invasion of privacy of the vast majority of law-abiding citizens, but life is all about trade-offs. If cameras could help apprehend those who destroy property and soil our sidewalks and doorways and provide the police with a valuable tool in enforcing the law, then might that level of intrusion be worth it? I’m guessing that the acquisition costs for such a system would be tolerable, certainly within the budget of a typical regional public relations campaign that gets washed away by a single widely-covered crime.

Perhaps the time has arrived to have a public discussion on video surveillance cameras for downtown Lowell.

17 Responses to Video Surveillance for Downtown?

  1. Tom says:

    I believe that there are several camera mounted downtown. Just walk around and look up, you’ll see them

  2. kad barma says:

    The best suggestion I ever read regarding public surveillance cameras is that they should all be visible and well-marked to the public, and the feeds from them should be public as well. (Ensures no one is able to use them unfairly or subjectively against anyone else–public is public–and no edited versions can be put out there that can’t be rebutted by a more complete version showing fuller context).

    Issues of public “privacy” are far different than individual privacy. If it’s a public street corner, all citizens have an interest in what goes on there, and are fully deserving of the record of what goes on there, especially when the activities on that corner are contributing to any decline in public safety. I think they are a good idea.

  3. Tom says:

    I hope this comes to the forefront as an issue to be solved.
    Last Saturday night for example, there were no fewer than 10 fights between 12-2am, as witnessed on my police scanner.
    Detail officers in the bars calling for backup at Hookslides, GarciaBrogans, the Brewery and Brians.
    The interesting thing about it is after the fights are broken up, I didnt hear arrests being made. Dont get that.
    In any event, it is clear that there needs to be some coalescence around a strategy between the bars, license commission and the police/city.

  4. C R Krieger says:

    I am against the erosion of privacy.  For instance, I should be able to jog down the street in my jogging togs and with no ID, not that such would be a smart idea at my age.  Even before 9/11 folks were talking like that was a bad thing.  On the other hand, if I am packing I should have to have by CC Card on me.  Or Driving.  Or going into a bar to order a drink.

    Regards  — 

  5. Mike says:

    Even when I was living downtown near the problem areas, I wouldn’t have supported cameras even though the bar goers drove me crazy. An increased police presence downtown around closing time (1:30-2am) on Thur, Fri, Sat, would go a long way. Besides, cameras can’t arrest people. And my biggest complaint was loiterers–people who’d come out of the bar, and be loud and hang around their cars honking their horns at 2:30 in the morning. Cameras won’t deter that, but a physical police presence would encourage them to move along. Plus, the longer they’d hang around, the more of a chance for them to do some damage.

  6. Doubting Thomas says:

    Dear Mr. Orwell,

    I think cameras monitoring who goes where and when are a great idea !
    It sounds like you don’t think people should be able to go out for a night without being recorded – maybe you should have to sign in and register who you are meeting in a bar or having dinner with in a restaurant – maybe we can give the list to the Lowell Sun and publish it in the Sunday Column?

    Maybe the time has arrived for a discussion of video cameras pointed at houses and bedroom windows? Maybe the time has come to discuss putting microchips in children at birth and using GPS to determine who is where and with who?

    Or maybe the time is right for us to all just grow up a little and quit overreacting every time we hear of somebody urinating in public… I don’t think anyone would agree that a little bit of urine is worth surrendering the US Constitution and our guaranteed privacy.

    Just my drive by

  7. DickH says:

    Even though I’m (relatively) old, I think opposition to video in public places is an age thing. People who have grown up with the internet are more comfortable with more stuff being public. Besides, there’s no Constitutional implications since there’s no expectation of privacy on a public street.

    As for the tactical question, certainly flooding the downtown with police at bar closing time would deter misbehavior, but we do have a limited number of officers and, if you ever listen to the police scanner at 2 am particularly on the weekend, they’re already stretched pretty thin responding to “shots fired” and domestic assault calls in the neighborhoods, neither of which anyone would want neglected.

    Someone once said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I remember in the mid-1980s when the first residents arrived downtown. Back then in the pre artist live-work space era, it was mostly elderly housing. A place called Rodney’s was the bar everyone blamed for the troubles (for recent arrivals, it was at 25 Market Street which is now inhabited by Savanna Palace, I think).

    Back in 1985, everyone’s proposed solution was more police presence downtown at night and that’s been everyone’s response ever since every time troubles bubble up like they are now. For twenty-seven years, the police have been fighting a gallant holding action, but that’s all it’s been – a holding action. Time to change tactics. I like the idea of video cameras and I especially like the idea of streaming them freely via the internet. YouTube clips of miscreants maliciously destroying property, committing assault and battery, or indecently exposing themselves would have a pretty high number of views. Plus, such videos would make pretty compelling evidence over at the Lowell District Court.

  8. Doubting Thomas says:

    I think the concept of the scapegoat has been around for centuries (if not more than four millenia). I guess it used to be Rodney’s, and now it is (insert name of bar/club/restaurant that is currently unpopular here).

    Since the number of calls for shots fired and assault an battery in the neighborhoods seems to peak at 2 am, then it is clear that downtown disorder is (and should be) a lower priority. But this begs the question – why spy on people going out in Downtown when these cameras should be observing neighborhoods where people are shooting guns off at 2 am? Given a choice between catching a gangbanger shooting up a neighborhood with a Saturday night special.

  9. Righty Bulger says:

    I like Dick’s idea. Those videos would also show that the video/youtube generation of today not only lacks a fear of appearing on camera, but it also lacks a clear definition of the word “lady.” For all the consternation about the downtown urinators, it should be noted a fair number of them belong to the fairer sex.

    Think of the magic on Christmas morning as someone produced one of these clips of the sweet princess squatting in an alley, or worse, in the broad sight. Daddy would be so proud of his little girl!

  10. George DeLuca says:

    There’s already a video surveillance program rolling out downtown. A good example is on Jackson Street. I witnessed the LPD break up a fight before it got too far in full view of mounted cameras. The police don’t want people to know where all the camera’s are for whatever reason, but there out there in plain sight if you look.

    I don’t know if we want to load up Market St. and Merrimack St with cameras as a means to deal with club goers. If LPD feels it would be helpful to expand the current program systematically and strategically that should suffice.

    I don’t know what Cliff would do if one of the revelers approached him with his urinator, with Cliff packing and all. But we do need a neighborhood response to those types of issues, as we can’t rely solely on the police to micro manage. Self defense and mace classes sponsored by LPD may be helpful.

    Cliff, I think it was you (via KB or LIL?) who recommended progressing the issues through the License Commission. Agreed … but that may be a long wait if that’s our only approach to remediating the problems that are manifesting downtown. But looking at the source is obviously a step in the right direction.

    Regardless, downtown residents need to figure out a way to safely use the streets, no matter what time of day/night it is. Perhaps an additional downtown group with a mission to study the situation and make recommendations to the City Council and/or the License Commission.

    At least two attendees of the last Lowell Downtown Residents Group meeting expressed interest. But the discussion was tempered by the comment “Lowell IS a City” and “We all did it when we were young.” Perhaps, but most likely not on the scale that we’re seeing downtown right now. The volume of the current activitiy may be precedent setting.

    My question is “How did it happen?” It’s easier to plan than turn back the tide.

  11. George DeLuca says:

    One more thing … I attended the Lower Highlands Neighborhood Group meeting last week and Captain Taylor complimented UTEC for their efforts and ability to get inside of volatile situations diffusing them before they ignite. That’s a great approach!

    As Captain Taylor said, “Once we’re (LPD) involved, there’s not going to be a good outcome for someone.”

    The LPD recently received some “hot spot” money which can be applied to some areas of downtown. My sense is that this pays for some of these overtime details. Not sure if LPD can buy cameras or other types of equipment, but it’s good to know it’s not being charged exclusively to Lowell’s taxpayers.

    Also, the new East Pawtucketville Neighborhood Group discussed the same issue as relates to UML student parties. One curious comment was that when events turn ugly in that part of the City, there may be a competition for law enforcement when LPD is inundated with simultaneous calls for help downtown, and, like Thomas said in other neighborhoods in the City as well. It’s easy to get “stretched too thin” as we keep hearing.

  12. kmarcin says:

    Since your are discussing video surveillance…it should be mentioned that the city is using this to “capture” illegal dumping. I do not think a camera at the corner of John and Merrimac would be any more intrusive to the public.

  13. Joan H says:

    Cameras downtown would be a great idea after the high school lets out as well. Almost every school day afternoon my scanner sounds off with calls of fights and large crowds looking for trouble.

  14. George DeLuca says:

    There’s only one solution to the high school impact issue. Build a new campus style high school at the Cawley Stadium area. Once the decision is made, downtown will immediately begin a process of change. City Council and School Committee members please take note.

    It starts with a planning process which outlines a schedule say over the next 8 years. We’ll need the delegation on this.

  15. Doubting Thomas says:


    Maybe the residents can petition to have the school shut down to avoid these fights?

  16. New Lowell Law says:

    When does the new law of arresting dog owners who let there dogs pee in public take affect ? I heard it starts in March. Can anyone confirm this for me ? There’s starting to be “A Lot Not To Like About Lowell.”