Eye in the parking lot Pasadena grocer employs camera for safety, and raises concerns.

December 24, 1996

A PASADENA supermarket has installed a video camera to monitor its parking lot and increase security. Patrons seem to appreciate the move.

The Metro Food Market is thought to be the first among Anne Arundel County's 13,000 businesses to install external surveillance. Before it installed a camera at its store in the 8100 block of Ritchie Highway, it put one on the roof of another store, in Millersville.

A trend? Perhaps. Officials in Howard County are using cameras to monitor motorists who run red lights, and Baltimore police employ cameras to combat crime downtown. But while photo surveillance can be a good idea, the cameras must be monitored at all times to succeed. Otherwise, they are little more than a psychological move to make people feel safe.

Metro has installed the cameras at store locations that have no perceived safety problem. It wants to be sure it stays that way.

Parking lot robberies have jumped by more than 9 percent in Anne Arundel this year. Car break-ins also tend to increase during the holidays, when people have extra merchandise or personal effects in their cars. Common sense should warn against leaving valuables in visible places. It is amazing how many car windows are broken because the robber saw a little loose change in a cup holder.

Some shoppers were surprised to learn of the camera and felt the community should have been told. Metro certainly did not try to hide it. A sign in front of the store advertises that the lot is videotaped 24 hours a day. In any event, people should be used to cameras in today's shopping environment. Their presence inside stores and banks causes no big privacy worries. Parking lots are a public space, but they also present liability concerns for merchants.

Parking areas of many shopping malls are scanned by security officers in cars and even in towers. A video camera is simply a more modern tool. Because activity is recorded, the camera can be valuable in ways than a sentry peering through binoculars cannot.

Actual crime and fear of it are two different things. But perceptions are important. If a camera adds to shoppers' confidence, it is a worthwhile tool. Of course, it is also a double-edged reminder that crime can strike almost anywhere these days.

Pub Date: 12/23/96

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