As Long as We’ve Got Security Cameras, We’re All Safe Aren’t We?

In response to increasing levels of early morning street violence, the Melbourne City Council recently announced an escalation in its safety camera program. Specifically, to add to the city’s stock of fixed cameras a new mobile camera facility is being commissioned. A senior voice of the council made the comment: “No cost is too high for safety in the city.” Even allowing for the obvious hyperbole, it’s apparent that certain types of costs are too high for the sake of city safety.

As one example, it seems that certain commercial practices (particularly around alcohol retailing) may contribute to city violence. As a city the people of Melbourne could convene a different conversation about alcohol’s place in a vibrant, inclusive, city culture. Yet it seems that the cost of making space for that type of conversation is too high.

As another example, it might be possible that different ways of building and sustaining community in Melbourne could contribute to a different, peace-seeking culture. Convening the difficult – but potentially fruitful – conversations that would lead to that possibility would have a cost. Again it seems that that cost is too high.

Although cameras have a reasonably high market price, their political advantage is that they provide an immediate, superficial sense of safety. As a majority of callers to talk-back radio said (supporting the camera decision) “it will put a brake on a proportion of rash violent behaviour and if you aren’t doing anything wrong, you don’t have anything to fear.”

Yet one voice among the many discerned a deeper reality. “It gently creates a sense that someone is watching over us and reduces the sense of ownership of our city.” With the introduction of each camera, the citizenry hands over sovereignty of its habitat to a piece of technology and a small army of security guards acting as professional peace keepers. This is a giving up of our own capacity to make community and a turning to our strict father for short-term comfort – and at a rate so slow to be imperceptible until our dependency becomes an ingrained cultural deficiency. Maybe the costs of cameras are too high for the sake of short term city safety.

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