Tanya Eiserer at the Dallas News Crime Blog has an item about cameras assisting in the capture of four suspects after they burgled a coin operated vending machine in downtown Dallas. When officers arrested them, one of the youth turned out to be a Fort Worth murder suspect.
Eiserer quotes the department's oft-repeated but utterly undocumented claim that cameras have reduced crime by 20% in Dallas' central business district. Nothing in Dallas' aggregate crime stats supports that, but they keep saying it, probably confident that Dallas has so many problems with arrest data that their statements are impossible to verify.
One thing's for sure, if crime in the central business district really declined 20%, that means the cameras displaced a great deal of crime from the central business district into into other neighborhoods. From 2006-2007, e.g., citywide Dallas saw a 1.9% decline in property crimes, a roughly similar pattern as found in natonal trends. So a 20% reduction thanks to enforcement focused in one area would mean most of that crime was pushed into other neighborhoods, increasing their crime rate to make up the difference. Because police camera proponents at DPD have never told us which neighborhoods' crime rates increased as a result of their downtown cameras, which would be the only way to explain their data, I continue to doubt the 20% claim.
Anyway, back to the vending machine burglary. Here's Eiserer's account, which to me it does not lead to any strong conclusion supporting cameras:
Early Sunday, the cameras helped lead to the capture of Kelson Wayne Steels, 18, who was suspected of being involved in burglarizing a newspaper stand. Police quickly determined that he was wanted on a Fort Worth capital murder arrest warrant.Let's review. Four teenagers break into a newspaper bin to steal the change. Police cameras spot them and the cops send patrol officers to chase them down. In this case, one of them happened to have other, more serious charges against him; another won't be charged because he's a "witness" against the first guy, and other two were cut free at the scene.
About 3:30 a.m., Dallas police officials monitoring the downtown surveillance cameras were notified that several people had just broken into a coin-operated newspaper machine on South Harwood. On the camera monitors, the officials spotted several suspected thieves running and trying to conceal themselves on the east side of the downtown library.
Patrol officers were told where they could find the suspects, whom they took into custody. Mr. Steels and Benny Evans, 18, were arrested on suspicion of burglary of a coin-operated machine. Another man and woman were released.
Police did not seek to file a burglary charge against Mr. Steels and instead listed him as a witness on the arrest reports for Mr. Evans. Mr. Steels has been turned over to Fort Worth police.
Details about the Fort Worth slaying were not available.
While everyone's glad a possible murderer was caught, let's not overstate the camera's role. The same thing would have happened if a witness saw them committing the crime and called it in. (Let's face it, people: Somebody breaking into a newspaper box in plain view in downtown Dallas when they've got an outstanding capital murder warrant against them isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer.)
Teenagers will, no doubt, continue to commit petty theft in downtown Dallas, and indeed three of the four thieves won't be charged. (Nobody will be charged with the break-in, Eiserer reports.) Despite the happenstance of catching an alleged murderer more or less by accident, at least in this anecdote it appears the cameras are being used to pursue comparatively small-time stuff.
Many people wanted for more serious offenses are identified when they're arrested for something minor, so it's a bit of a stretch to give cameras too much credit. This guy was caught because his acting out made it inevitable. Four teens out on a binge breaking into a newspaper bin on a public street in downtown Dallas are pretty likely to get noticed and arrested anyway.
Two of the thieves were released at the scene; for all we know they moved to another neighborhood the following night. A third won't face charges if he snitches against his compadre. (I use the term "snitch" not as a synonym for "testify," but to describe the exchange of testimony for reduced culpability in the witness' own criminal case.)
But the key point here is that the cameras didn't catch a murderer except by chance; they really caught a bunch of dumb teenagers breaking into a coin-operated newspaper bin - a crime so de minimus half the perpetrators were let go on the spot. It's better to be lucky than good, but it's also unwise to confuse the two.