Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Business of Solving Crime

Chicago's Mayor Daley has endorsed legislation to mandate that licensed Chicago businesses open more than 12 hours per day install both indoor and outdoor surveillance cameras. This, Mayor Daley believes, will lead to a reduction in crime and will help police solve crimes that occur. He said, ""Block clubs, community organizations want cameras. ... They can't walk down the street. ... Their kids have to go around a corner away from the gang-bangers. You can't walk to church. You can't get on the CTA. ... Cameras really prevent much crime. Cameras also solve a lot of crime. The terrorist attacks in London were solved by cameras. The whole incident was solved by cameras," according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Mayor Daley is correct in saying that installation of surveillance systems serves as both a deterrent to crime and a tool in solving crimes. However, Mayor Daley is still wrong to propose legislation mandating that businesses open over 12 hours per day install cameras.

Just how many cameras are we talking about? According to Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce President Jerry Roper, 12,000 businesses are open in Chicago for more than 12 hours per day, many of them restaurants and hotels. "Some places will take a look at the cost and say, 'We'll only be open for one shift or a shift and a half. They'll take a look at their last two hours and say, 'I'm not making that much anyway. I'll just close earlier.' Employees will lose that money," Roper said.

According to the article in the Chicago Sun-Times, "[l]ast week, business leaders lined up in opposition to the mandate on grounds it could add anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 to their costs -- even before monitoring expenses." Apparently, businesses are not buying into the idea that installing cameras will be a smart move. Perhaps they do not perceive as high a crime risk as elected officials do. Had the business owners thought that the risk of being robbed was sufficiently high, and the cost of being robbed was also high, they would have already taken precautions such as installing cameras. Instead, businesses often take less costly precautions. They may keep less cash on hand, store valuables in safes, have alarm systems for after hours, etc. For cost effective solutions to crime, I'd trust the business owners themselves over Chicago's Mayor Daley.

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