The city hails its “Citizen Virtual Patrol” as a step toward transparency. The American Civil Liberties union calls it “Big Brother [and] and infinite number of siblings.”
Law enforcement agencies have deployed vast surveillance camera networks to guard against terrorism and combat street crime. In Newark, the police have taken an extraordinary step that few, if any, other departments have pursued: They have opened up feeds from dozens of closed-circuit cameras to the public, asking viewers to assist the force by watching over the city and reporting anything suspicious, the New York Times reports. The Citizen Virtual Patrol has been hailed by officials as a move toward transparency in a city where a mistrust of the police runs deep, rooted in claims of aggressive enforcement and racial animosity. Officials say the cameras provide a way to recruit residents as Newark tries to shake a reputation for violence and crime. “This is part of building a partnership,” said Anthony Ambrose, who, as public safety director, oversees the city’s police and fire operations. Since the program started a month ago, 1,600 users have signed into the website, and residents have asked for more cameras in their neighborhoods.
The program has provoked alarm among civil liberties groups and privacy advocates. They argue that it opens a Pandora’s box of possibly devastating consequences for unsuspecting people and gives would-be stalkers or burglars a powerful tool for tracking their targets. They say it pushes the police to rely heavily on the judgment of untrained civilians whose perception could be clouded by unconscious biases. The cameras look out over strips of storefronts (some bustling and others seemingly dead), public housing complexes and rows of family homes. “It’s not just Big Brother,” said Amol Sinha of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. “There’s an infinite number of siblings here.”