New York adds fake cameras to arsenal

Simulated surveillance is cheaper than the real thing, and effective

April 07, 2002|By Kari Haskell | Kari Haskell,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK - Surveillance programs reduce crime, the experts say, and there are plenty of statistics to back them up. But there is a new trend in surveillance, and it seems to be working, too: fake surveillance.

The New York City Department of Transportation recently announced that it was joining London, Tokyo and other cities around the world in adding Imitation Security programs to their efforts to deter traffic violations.

Since 1993, New York has put up 50 real cameras on unobtrusive 14-foot steel and aluminum poles in high-incident areas to capture red-light renegades on film. The result: the total collection of $50 fines mailed to registered owners of the violating cars has exceeded $10 million. The city has seen the greatest success on Queens Boulevard, once coined the Boulevard of Death for its pedestrian death rate, where moving violations have dropped 40 percent.

New York is perching 200 fake cameras on the same kinds of poles, in the same kinds of trouble spots.

"It is just fine by us if the fear of God is instilled through these fake cameras," said Tom Cocola, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation.

The price of the facsimile is about a tenth of the $56,000 cost of a real camera (the fakes are so expensive because they are installed with the wiring to allow the workings of a real camera to be plugged in).

Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently joked they were like a poor man's security system, "a Beware of Dog sign": intimidating, but not really able to bite. But New York is warning drivers the phonies may be rotated with real cameras.

Traffic isn't the only field to offer a false sense of insecurity. Fake cameras and other tricks are being used in retail shops and homes. These cheat techniques have quite a few desirable qualities. They are far less expensive than the real thing, don't infringe on personal privacy, and yet seem to be as effective as the real McCoy.

By purchasing both real and imitation cameras, retail stores can stretch their budgets, said Dan Krahling, president of 1-800- Dummy Camera in Virginia.

Krahling said his business started from requests of customers. Although Krahling does not suggest inoperative cameras be placed at cash registers - the likeliest spot for an armed robber to approach - he says that placing them in aisles is highly effective in reducing petty crime. His cameras cost about $77, compared with a few hundred dollars for the real thing.

Homeowners have found that placing fake cameras outside their doors is an inexpensive way to deter unwanted visitors. Prices increase with every level of apparent authenticity; some such cameras rotate, flash and beep. Coupling the cameras with Bloomberg's "poor man's security system" may be even more effective.

And dummies dressed in uniform can supplement human highway patrols.

In Chevy Chase Village, Md., a stiff-lipped "Officer Austin" is on the job Monday through Friday, watching over motorists traveling on the major artery toward Washington. "Although the mannequin can't chase speeders," said Roy Gordon, the village's chief of police, "the brake lights definitely come on when they see him."

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