A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

The threat of surveillance: Does it work?

Written April 20th, 2019 by Hasso Hering

The Periwinkle Creek Path behind Lowe’s in Albany on April 3: No trash or spray paint.

When I saw those warnings posted on the Periwinkle Creek Path earlier this month, no trash or graffiti were in sight, making it look as though the threat of being surveilled had stayed the vandals’ hand. Another look today showed that, alas, the defilers of public spaces are not so easily deterred.

The parks department posted the warnings because this newest section of the path, extended to Ninth Avenue when Lowe’s was built in 2015, was having problems with vagrancy, vandalism, and so forth. The signs had been posted every 100 feet or so on the fence between the path and the creek.

Today, on April 20, most of the signs had been stolen or otherwise removed. There was trash on the ground, though not as much as I’ve seen there before. Messages in red spray paint, including the N-word, defaced the wall on the path’s west side.

So you may wonder: Does camera surveillance ever work to prevent crime, including vandalism? The debate is still open, as you can see if you ask that question online. But chances are security cameras are less effective when the consequences of being caught take a long time to be brought to bear.

As I reported in December, a surveillance camera near the entrance to Simpson Park showed someone dumping a couch there, a giant chunk of trash that city officials said cost them $50 to have removed. The dumping happened on Sept. 29. In December the police said the investigation was still open. This month, in April, I learned that a 39-year-old man, whose last known address was in Albany, had been charged with this case of littering, and he has a court date of May 14. Why so slow? Apparently there was a “failure to appear.”

In some places — for instance London, as I understand it, and presumably Beijing — the authorities keep a watchful eye on what their surveillance cameras see in real time. We wouldn’t want that in America, especially small towns, even if we could afford it. So if we want vandals and trash-spreading vagrants to quit messing up our towns, we’ll have to think of something else. (hh)

Today the signs were gone, presumably swiped by those messing up the path.


One of the spray-painted legends someone had left on the path.

5 responses to “The threat of surveillance: Does it work?”

  1. Bill Kapaun says:

    The signs were there yesterday afternoon, so it had to happen last night.

  2. Jim Engel says:

    “Something Else as to responsibility!!!”? How about taking personal responsibility for your actions! Not gonna happen any time soon. Those that will,,,,,, will do as they please whether they read a blog, newspaper or poster !!

  3. Rich says:

    Cameras everywhere is a great idea. Anyone that litters is an idiot.

  4. HowlingCicada says:

    “””… authorities keep a watchful eye on what their surveillance cameras see in real time. We wouldn’t want that in America, especially small towns, even if we could afford it.”””

    The “afford” part should soon be moot (except for companies over-charging for “police grade” nonsense). Solar powered portable cameras with rechargeable batteries for overnight and bad weather, connected by 5G, attached to suitable spots by drones. No need for authorities to monitor routinely – AI (artificial intelligence, possibly built-in) will take care of that. The price will depend on economy of scale, competition, and marketplace transparency. The same cameras could be used for home security monitoring – might already be happening.

    I could support something like this after a lot of changes, including replacing our punitive justice system with a more restorative system.

    • Bill Kapaun says:

      “….including replacing our punitive justice system with a more restorative system.”

      With the exception of Capital Punishment, we do NOT have a “punitive justice system”. They can only incarcerate.


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