Vermont Public Radio does the spadework to find out whether automated license plate surveillance systems offer a reasonable return on investment:
“…Even with the millions of scans, the system has not led to many arrests or breakthroughs in major criminal investigations. […] They were helpful in solving fewer than five crimes in 2013. [Officer] Cram [of Winooski PD] says the federally-funded ALPR is a valuable tool, even though he doesn’t think the city would have put up $25,000 of its own money to buy one.“
At a cost of “over $1 million” over five years, that works out at around $50,000 per crime solved. [Note: Initial calculations of $40,000 per crime solved were based on an inaccurate figure of five crimes solved.]
At a rate of $50,000 per crime, you could hire one part-time police officer, and I suspect that that part-time police officer would solve more than one crime per year. So what gives?
This is what gives, for ALPR, for surveillance cameras, and for military surplus equipment. Police departments count the cost of new surveillance equipment at zero, even when it’s not (taxpayers ultimately pay). It’s hard for police chiefs to turn down free, even if free offers only the most marginal prospect of reducing crime. But it says everything about the utility of this technology that, had the City of Winooski been asked to put up its own money, Officer Cram thought that they wouldn’t have done it. Oh – and I almost forgot to mention – as the article mentions, the entity charged with managing the data from this boondoggle is, naturally, the Vermont fusion center.
Meanwhile, only half of American roads are in good repair, and our public transportation is an international laughingstock. Americans’ median incomes are falling, and more and more of us are just a paycheck or two from disaster. We scrutinize every milligram of social spending to uncover with great fanfare a rate of fraud of $0.0073 per dollar spent, because we can’t abide any of them Cadillac-driving fur-coat-clad welfare queens. And yet somehow, funding for more surveillance, more militarization, and more war, is never-ending and never requires proper accounting or justification.
For instance: Lockheed Martin contracted with the New York subway system to provide a surveillance system that was never delivered, and the MTA is now having to eat $205 million in costs with nothing to show for it.
For instance: Security contractor SAIC “set up an intricate network of cost inflation and kickbacks” to inflate the cost of a New York City digital security initiative from $68 million to $740 million.
That’s just New York.
Let’s be blunt. This is a racket. The aim here is not to increase your or my safety in any meaningful way. There’s no measurement or accountability going on to make sure that that actually happens. On the other hand, surveillance firms are definitely getting fat on your and my tax dollars.
We’re not being protected here; we’re the prey, and surveillance firms reap the profits, in turn starving our public agencies of funds for programs that would actually help people live happier, healthier and more productive lives.
This state of affairs will continue for as long as our elected representatives abandon their critical faculties when security grifters come along promising to be able to do something against The Terrorists, or The Hackers, or whoever tomorrow’s enemy will be. They should beware of anybody offering expensive “cybersecurity solutions” or “next-generation integrated surveillance systems” or “online radicalization limitation mechanisms” or anything of the suchwhich. The system is just too easy to bilk.