With thousands of electronic eyes keeping watch across the city, criminals better be ready for their close-ups.
When police release info on a crime, surveillance footage is available to help catch the suspect nearly half the time, an analysis of police crime reports released publicly has found.
Of the 379 cases in the first four months of this year, more than 45 percent featured criminals caught on video. The footage came from sources such as banks, housing complexes and subway stations. Over the same time span in 2007, 34 percent of the reports had images.
The percentage of criminals caught on camera peaked in 2009 with 53 percent.
Police commissioner Ray Kelly told a City Council committee recently that he’s a “big proponent” of cameras and wants his department to have more.
It’s unclear, though, how often the video leads to an arrest – raising further privacy concerns about the city’s ongoing efforts to expand its surveillance program.
“You can’t just put a camera up in a vast, open space with no one watching it and no public awareness and expect to get a reduction in crime,” said Jon Shane, a professor of criminal justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
The NYPD did not return a request for comment, but an FBI spokesman called cameras “helpful” in catching fugitives and providing evidence. In one case, a prominent hedge-fund manager pleaded guilty in April of insider trading after surveillance around Manhattan caught him destroying evidence.
On Monday, for example, footage of the suspect in the attack of an 85-year-old woman on the Upper East Side was released hours after the incident.
With mostly federal grants, the city is building a $201 million network of 3,000 public- and private-sector cameras in Lower Manhattan and midtown by 2013. Its expansion last fall was touted as a way to provide “safety and security” in the face of terrorism.
But the New York Civil Liberties Union says there’s a larger question about “Big Brother” intruding into people’s lives.
“I think nobody doubts the value of surveillance cameras in solving crimes,” said Donna Lieberman, the group’s executive director. “But unfortunately, there’s been far too little consideration of how a surveillance society affects our fundamental notion of being a free society.”
New Yorkers were mixed on whether cameras offer real protection, but said the value of them outweighs any worries about privacy.
Kurt Depaula, 32, of Ridgewood, Queens, said cameras may not dissuade people from committing crimes, but they’re “a necessity these days, even if it doesn’t make me feel safer.”
(With Dina Davis and Shawniquica Henry)
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Recent crimes caught on camera
May 23: Graphic video released by the NYPD from an elevator camera showed a man beating a puppy at a public housing complex in East Harlem.
Irving Sanchez, 46, was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals.
April 27: Two Bronx teens were arrested in the alleged beating of a Chinese food deliveryman in Morningside Heights. The pair turned themselves in after footage of the crime was released by the NYPD from an apartment building camera.
The suspects were charged with burglary and robbery.
April 17: The deadly shooting of Andre Pitts, 18, in a Brownsville apartment building was captured by a surveillance camera.
On the video, the suspect was seen firing the shots and calmly walking away.
Tipsters identified the alleged shooter as Djavan Perry, 20, who was caught May 3 in Albany and faces first-degree murder charges.