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Public Surveillance Cameras Are Increasing; Are They Effective?

Surveillance cameras like the one that captured Memphis officers beating Tyre Nichols have proliferated in the U.S. even as researchers, civil-liberties advocates and law-enforcement officials debate whether they are effective. Footage from a pole-mounted surveillance camera provided a clearer view than the officers’ body-worn cameras of the Jan. 7 encounter, when Nichols was punched, kicked and struck with batons. He died three days later. Most studies have shown that public surveillance systems in the U.S. don’t have much impact on violent crime but can reduce property crimes such as thefts and break-ins, said Daniel Lawrence of the CNA Corporation’s Center for Justice Research and Innovation, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Such cameras have helped increase the rates at which crimes are solved in some cities by providing video evidence. "​The quality of surveillance cameras tends to be much better than body-worn cameras—they’re stationary, you can zoom in and out,” said Frank Straub, a retired police chief who is a director at the National Policing Institute, a nonprofit research organization. Pole-mounted SkyCop cameras dot the Memphis neighborhood where Tyre Nichols was stopped in January by local police. The city has more than 2,000 publicly installed cameras, including one that documented Nichols' beating. There is no recent public data on how many surveillance cameras are in the U.S., but researchers say the number is growing.


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