The City of Durango installed surveillance cameras Oct. 29 at the College Drive, Ninth Street and 11th Street intersections with Main Avenue as an aid to preventing crime and apprehending criminals in Durango’s most-trafficked, and some would say vulnerable, commercial district. (So far, Cortez has not followed in its neighbor’s footsteps.)
On Nov. 7, the Durango cameras did their job.
A front window of Top That Yogurt Shop was broken late Nov. 7. Remnants of a Smirnoff Ice bottle were found mingled with the broken window glass the morning after the vandalism.
Top That’s security cameras captured blurry video of two girls outside the store about 10:45 p.m., drinking the alcoholic beverage. Someone, out of the camera’s view, afterward throws the empty bottle at the window, presumably breaking it. Police say they have identified the minors responsible with the help of the city’s new surveillance camera’s footage. Charges have not yet been filed.
The owners of Top That blamed the “tolerant Left” in green paint on the wooden panel installed over the broken window. Co-owner Ryan Bartholomew also temporarily put up signs that read, “I shoot to kill” and “Kyle Rittenhouse is a HERO,” referring to the 17-year-old accused of shooting and killing three protestors in Wisconsin.
Bartholomew made it clear in an interview with the Herald after the window was broken that he blamed backlash against him for his political viewpoints. The shop posted Republican signage in the run-up to the November election; at least one recent conflict outside the shop focused on the signage.
But in this case, Bartholomew may be wrong about the vandals’ motivation. It sounds like the pair who broke the window at Top That were just youth acting out in a very irresponsible (and yes, possibly criminal) manner.
Some might see this as a vindication of the city’s decision to put up the surveillance cameras: Look, the suspects were caught! Perhaps. If the footage doesn’t show who threw the bottle that hit and broke the window, we can imagine many clever potential defenses for the accused.
Yet even if such footage proves helpful in catching criminals, we’re not sure that random videotaping of the public is an unequivocally good idea. Any sacrifice of privacy deserves long and serious questioning.
From news reports it seems that the city polled business owners in the downtown area about installing the cameras and of course got a positive response; businesses are understandably in favor of anything that will protect their stores from vandalism.
In went the cameras, with promises of in-store cameras, connected to the law enforcement system, available for owners to purchase. Ordinary Durangoans weren’t similarly polled about how they felt regarding the issue.
Shades of George Orwell. It’s one thing if business owners install their own security systems; they own the premises and products and have a right to protect them.
When government does it, something else is afoot.
Police said at the time of installation that the cameras’ data would be retained only for 30 days.
We understand that police need all the help they can get to prevent crime, and that surveillance cameras offer a relatively inexpensive and passive form of enforcement.
But the government will now be able to see with whom we are walking down the street or entwined on a park bench, and – eventually, in stores – what we are perusing and purchasing. And whether the police watch us in real time or after the fact or even watches us at all is irrelevant to whether we want them to have the power to do so.
We respect and appreciate our police department. We’re not so sure about Big Brother and Sister.