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Free Speech: Cameras in the squares?
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There’s a crime wave in the downtown city squares. Yep, they’re full of violence, clearly one of the worst places in Savannah.

Not to fear though, local businesses, volunteer organizations and the government are swinging into action! They’re proposing to install security cameras in all 22 squares, which is sure to strike fear into the hearts of criminals everywhere.

Maybe that’s a bit dramatic and negative. Isn’t the idea of installing cameras a good one? Some local groups think so.

 Save Our Savannah (SOS), a local crime prevention group, was formed in the wake of the murder of Jennifer Ross, who was killed in Orleans Square this time last year, sparking a huge public outcry.

SOS, together with Piggly Wiggly, donated funds for one camera, currently installed in Reynolds Square. They hope to use this or similar models to help the government pay for cameras in all 22 downtown squares to fight crime.

A noble and worthwhile goal, for sure, but security cameras in the squares, to combat crime? That’s like banning all liquids on airplanes just because of one plot to blow up planes involving liquids. It’s a reaction, sure, but does it solve the problem?

Quick, name the neighborhood in Savannah that has the most murders. If you had said Calhoun Square, you’d be wrong. If you had said any square or even downtown, you’d also be wrong.

According to 2005 Neighborhood Crime Statistics (available on the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department’s website at, the most murders per neighborhood (14 total) occurred in central Savannah, roughly defined as beginning south of Henry Street.

In fact, out of the six regions defined in the report, downtown Savannah ranks third in homicides, fourth in rape, third in robbery, second in aggravated assault, fourth in burglary, third in larceny and third in auto theft. So while the Historic District is hardly crime-free or even close to it, neither is it the most dangerous place in Savannah.

Even if we do put cameras in the squares, what exactly is going to happen? At first not much, because no one will be watching them. They’re intended, at this point, to merely record action in the squares, not serve as virtual eyes staffed 24/7.

Which is kinda silly. If you’re going to put cameras up anywhere, let them be publicly accessible, 24/7. Put the feeds on the web or on the local government channel. It’ll beat the hell out the current programming, and there are plenty of people in Savannah who would love our very own locally grown reality show.

Identifying the criminals will be tough. Don’t believe me? The downtown branch of Darby Bank was robbed Nov. 15. Naturally the bank had security cameras and they caught an image of the robber. What does he look like? Tall white guy wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap -- which describes a quarter of the audience at a Sand Gnats game.

They still haven’t found the robber, despite cameras and an exploding dye pack.But police did find Jennifer Ross’s assailants, without the help of security cameras.

So we’re going to put cameras in a place that is not the highest crime spot, they’re not going to be actively monitored, and we can assume that once the cameras do go up, the criminals will move on to another spot. Maybe that’s good enough for some people, but that’s not solving much, is it?

And we do want to lower crime all around the city, not just in squares, right? Right?

Meanwhile, how’s the recruitment of police going? Do we have enough? Are they doing regular street patrols?

Also, let’s acknowledge the Big Brother arguments. If you’re OK with the idea that government is always to be trusted, well so be it. Me, I’m of the mind that if we’re going to be monitoring anyone, then government officials should be tagged, sorted, measured and weighed daily to see what they’re up to.

But really, let’s get to the meat of why cameras will probably go up in the squares after all: the Jennifer Ross murder. A young white woman from a well-to-do family was tragically murdered on Christmas Eve. There’s an understandable sense that this should not have happened to someone like her, a good person, one of us. So, we reach for quick solutions in order to gain some control, something that’ll make us feel as though we’re doing something, at least.

If you really think cameras will prevent crime, let me ask you this: Why are we still seeing video of convenience stores and banks being robbed? Do you think criminals will stop doing what they do because cameras are there?

Or is it that with cameras there they might at least choose to go somewhere else? And is that what you wanted all along?