Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly announced last week that the city will expand its video surveillance program from downtown to midtown. That’s welcome news for New Yorkers, who were reminded last month that terrorists remain intent on striking the city again.
City Hall’s announcement had nothing to do with the alleged plot by Najibullah Zazi to detonate homemade bombs in the city. And yet, of course, it had everything to do with that foiled plot and all the other plots that we must assume are being planned at this very moment. Video surveillance has emerged as a vital tool in the grim but important business of preventing terrorism and, when prevention fails, investigating terrorist outrages.
Cameras have performed the work of 21st-century beat cops in Lower Manhattan since 2005. City Hall’s expansion of the program will bring cameras to the heart of midtown, from 30th Street to 60th Street, river to river. That will place some of the city’s most important landmarks, including the United Nations, under constant video surveillance.
Civil libertarians have objected, not surprisingly, but as the mayor pointed out, this program strikes a balance between security and privacy. “We can’t just say everybody can go everyplace and do anything we want,” he said. A new age, one in which madmen are willing to have bombs inserted in their bodies in an effort to kill innocent civilians, demands new security techniques. Video cameras pose no threat to those who have nothing to hide, but they certainly may pose an obstacle to those who wish us harm.
And while the surveillance program is designed as an anti-terrorist tool, it also serves as another tool for further reducing the blight of street crime that, once upon a time, was a far greater threat to New Yorkers than global terrorism. The result, then, is a safer city.
No security program comes with a written guarantee. But video surveillance offers a welcome layer of protection for a city that remains in the terrorists’ cross hairs.