From gated communities to cameras and license plate readers

In the 1990s and early 2000s, there was an increase in scholarly work addressing the growing phenomenon of gated communities. Such communities were often criticized for at least giving the appearance of trying to withdraw from the world, being exclusive, and indulging the fears of suburbanites. So I wonder what these researchers might think about a community that wants to use cameras to read the license plates of everyone who enters their community:

Kings Point is one of the wealthiest villages on the North Shore, and residents want to keep it that way with the latest security…

To protect its 3.3 square miles, Kings Point plans to install 44 cameras and license plate readers at each of the 19 points of entry. The devices will take pictures of every vehicle and license plate and compare them to data bases.

“It will alert us to suspended registrations, felonies, stolen cars, order of protection, sex offenders, things like that,” Kings Point Police Commissioner Jack Miller said…

There’s no way of knowing whether the project will reduce crime. It may just send it off to other towns that are less secure.

Police said the project will cost $1 million, and will be paid for over several years. They also stressed only police will have access to surveillance information.

The article mentions one other key piece of information: there seems to have been a (small?) string of recent crimes in the community which has prompted the installation of cameras.

There may be some privacy issues here but I think some of same concerns about gated communities could be raised about this move. This is a wealthy community: according to Census data, there are 5,305 residents, the median household income (in 2009 dollars) is $144,000, the median home value is $1,000,000+, 55.3% of those 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or more, and the community is 95.3% white, 3.4% Asian, and 3.1% Latino. Is this simply a move to protect the exclusivity of this community? While the article references plans in New York and London (presumably to fight terrorism), does a community like this really need to go to this level? If you look at some neighborhood/real estate websites, Kings Point Village seems to have quite a low crime rate (with a fun feature of this link being you get to see your odds of “becoming a victim” in whatever community you search for). This seems to me to be a much better question than whether police should have access to this information and therefore invade your privacy.

Additionally, it will be interesting to see what police do with this data. Which criminal offenses are enough to warrant attention? Is the goal of the program just to have a record of who was in the community so that they can be tracked down later or will there be more immediate actions taken? If the goal is to just to track down people after a crime has been committed, will residents be happy or will they suggest that the crime should have been prevented?

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