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Shared Surveillance Footage Solves a Hate Crime in Three Days

Shared Surveillance Footage Solves a Hate Crime in Three Days
Feb 20, 2019

On a summer day in 2018, an elderly Sikh gentleman walks down the street in Manteca, a small city in California’s Central Valley, an agricultural region that has always had large immigrant populations but is becoming ever more diverse in the 21st century. The man wears the loose pants and long tunic common to North India. He also wears a turban, since men who follow Sikhism do not cut their hair but bind it up.

Two teenagers approach the man. The younger men menace the older, as he raises his arms. One of the teens knocks the Sikh man to the ground and then kicks him in the stomach. As the elderly man writhes in pain, the teens turn away. Then, one teen seems to change his mind, walks back and delivers three more hard kicks to the sprawled victim. Finally, the teen spits on him.

Why so many details? The assault on the man—later identified as Sahib Singh Natt, age 71—was captured on surveillance video shared widely on social media. The Manteca Police investigated the incident as a hate crime.

Within just three days, the Manteca Police Department identifies the older teen as 18-year-old Tyrone McAllister, and charged him and an unidentified 16-year-old with attempted robbery, elder abuse and assault with a deadly weapon.[1]

McAllister’s father, police chief of Union City, a community 60 miles west in the San Francisco Bay Area, sees the video and helps the Manteca police to track down his son, estranged from his family for some time. In December, a judge sentences the youth to a year in the county jail for the assault. [2]

The reach of the video across social media catches the attention of Manteca’s leaders. Not long before the perpetrator’s sentencing, the Manteca City Council approves a system of 30 surveillance cameras to be supplied and installed by V5 Systems; the units, wireless and portable, are turnkey and quick to implement; the City plans to re-deploy the units to augment police work as crime hot spots move.

Almost Without Our Noticing, Police Video Cameras Have Truly Gone Mainstream

The appeal of these systems is intuitive: If you catch a crime on video and then share that video, it just seems to follow that the bad guys will get caught more quickly and efficiently.

That is the case that police departments usually make to those who approve their budgets and there are powerful anecdotes to support this:

  • For instance, after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, videos helped to apprehend the man later convicted and sentenced to death for that crime.
  • As an added bonus, such programs often gain support from the public. For instance, a 2013 poll found that many New Yorkers would support even more video surveillance than the thousands of cameras already deployed. Chicago residents have likewise responded

And some academic studies seem to support the enthusiasm of the public and police. To cite just a few:

  • A 2011 study by the Urban Land Institute finds that in cities such as Baltimore and Chicago, crimes fell by as much as a third after surveillance cameras were installed. In some areas of Chicago where cameras were deployed, weapons-related crimes fell by almost half. The study also found that in these jurisdictions, the cameras saved money for police departments. In Chicago, for instance, four dollars of manpower were saved for every dollar spent on the technology.
  • A study of Newark, New Jersey finds that CCTV installation seemed to decrease auto theft
  • Another study of Baltimore, Maryland concludes that video footage combined with “Big Data” (i.e. geographic information systems) could be a powerful tool for law enforcement.

The Key Thing To Remember

Most experts emphasize is that video cameras are a tool, not a silver bullet. They can be a really effective tool, as they were for the police in the case of Mr. Natt’s assault in Manteca, and as they appear to have been in so many jurisdictions that have installed them.

When video of a crime is recorded and flagged, investigators have an easier time finding witnesses and getting them to cooperate. With clear video evidence, prosecutors have noted less case preparation time, and more cases in which suspects make a plea deal before trial. If a case does go to trial, video still makes that process more efficient.

But at each of these stages, people decide how these tools are used. A key finding of the Urban Land Institute study is that, to be effective, cameras need to be deployed in sufficient numbers, and to be regularly reviewed by trained staff. The study found that in Washington, D.C, where only a limited number of cameras went up and review of the video wasn’t as regular, results were far less dramatic than in Baltimore and Chicago, where departments invested in more cameras and more people to keep track of them.

It’s also important, the study concluded, that a video surveillance program must go beyond just buying cameras. It’s important to place the cameras strategically, in patterns that make sense for each city.

It’s important to think about the camera features that make the most sense in a particular context. For instance, should the camera show just one view, or should it pan around in a sweeping motion?

And what about staff education and follow up? Should the cameras be actively monitored so that officers can respond in real time? How should video data be stored before it’s written over? How will personnel be trained to review the video? Will officers be trained to understand that video will usually enhance, rather than replace, witness testimony?

As the city of Manteca begins to roll out its police camera program, it should think about all these questions. In the meantime, the Manteca Police Department is eager to use this new tool.

 

[1] These details come from watching the video and from a story in the Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2018/08/09/sikh-man-beaten-spat-on-devastated-police-chief-says-suspect-is-my-18-year-old-son/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.dfa65655947a

And the Modesto Bee

https://www.modbee.com/news/local/crime/article216319800.html

[2] https://www.recordnet.com/news/20181211/tyrone-mcallister-sentenced-to-year-in-county-jail-for-assault-on-71-year-old

 

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