The Corner

L.A. Police Captain: General Surveillance Just Like Street Lights

A Los Angeles Police Department captain in charge of citywide surveillance says the proliferation of technology for keeping tabs on ordinary citizens is no more worrying than the implementation of street lights in early America.

“In early America when we started putting up street lights people thought that this is the government trying to see what we’re doing at night to spy on us,” Captain John Romero, commander of the LAPD’s Real Time Analysis and Critical Response Division, said in an interview with PBS’s NewsHour Friday. “And so over time things shifted, and now if you tried to take down street lights in Los Angeles or Boston or anywhere else, people would say ‘No. It’s public safety. You’re hurting our public safety just so you can save money on lighting.’ I think that cameras will eventually get there, where cameras will not be a problem in the future.”

It is not clear whether Romero’s historical claim is accurate. This reporter was unable to find any evidence for the claim that street lighting was ever opposed on privacy grounds in the United States, although homeowners with buildings that fronted major streets in England and France do appear to have objected to laws in the 17th and 18th centuries requiring them to light the public streets or be fined. More recently, observers have noted that some new street lights actually do contain advanced surveillance technology.


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