Lancaster, Pennsylvania — the historic town where America’s founding fathers plotted during the Revolution and Milton Hershey later crafted his first chocolates, now boasts another distinction. It may become the nation’s most closely watched small city. The Los Angeles Times reports:
Some 165 closed-circuit TV cameras soon will provide live, round-the-clock scrutiny of nearly every street, park and other public space used by the 55,000 residents and the town’s many tourists. That’s more outdoor cameras than are used by many major cities, including San Francisco and Boston.
Unlike anywhere else, cash-strapped Lancaster outsourced its surveillance to a private nonprofit group that hires civilians to tilt, pan and zoom the cameras — and to call police if they spot suspicious activity. No government agency is directly involved.
Perhaps most surprising, the near-saturation surveillance of a community that saw four murders last year has sparked little public debate about whether the benefits for law enforcement outweigh the loss of privacy.
Commentary: This story is disheartening. I used to live in Lancaster and it was a great place to live where strangers helped each other and you could leave your car engine running and your car unlocked while you ran into a store for something — and still find it there when you came out.
Update of 6-24-09: Apparently this story got a lot of coverage nationally and in the blogosphere. There’s a follow-up today on Lancaster Online.