If you're out and about in certain parts of Amsterdam, smile, because Big Brother is watching you. Unfortunately, he has to.
City officials announced this week that the first of several security cameras that will be installed throughout the city have gone up. The first two were placed in the Five Corners area of town, and more will go up in that section. It's understandable, seeing that nearly all of the shops there have been robbed or burglarized in recent years, not to mention at least one armed robbery and a fatal stabbing.
More will pop up in other sections of town, such as upper Market Street near the Fastrac, the 24-hour gas station that attracts all sorts of interesting people in the overnight hours, and possibly Locust Avenue, the scene of a double homicide last year and an area that has seen its share of other problems in recent times.
At first glance, I'm tempted to say "good," because the city police officers need all the help they can get in keeping up with crime around town. If the cameras can help them stop the bad guys from doing their thing as the thing is happening, or if it helps them catch the bad guys after they do their thing so they won't do their thing again, then put them all up.
Then my inner Libertarian starts screaming bloody murder. Are we really at a point where we need to put whole neighborhoods under surveillance? Isn't that what happens in a police state? What about privacy for law-abiding citizens? Don't they have the right to go about their daily lives without having some authority figure keeping constant watch over them?
Working nights like I often do, the Fastrac is a regular stop for me if I need gas, a drink or a slice of pizza because it's the only place that's open all night long. Knowing that the cops are going to know what my favorite brand of iced tea is can be a little unsettling. In case it doesn't show up clear in the tapes, it's Fuze Strawberry Red.
Even Police Chief Gregory Culick acknowledges the cameras can be problematic, admitting that installing them is "a little Big Brother-ish."
But he adds that this is the "way of the world right now," and sadly, he's probably right.
All one has to do is look at what's happening around them. While I'm certainly not saying that crime in Amsterdam is any better or any worse than in nearly every other upstate New York community, we constantly hear reports of people robbing shops, beating other people up on the streets, property being damaged, and all sorts of deviant behavior.
It seems like the criminal element gets bolder as time passes, and I doubt it's because of a lack of fear of being arrested. Many police officials, including Culick, have acknowledged that a breakdown of society's morals and standards have led to increases in crime. I can't say I disagree.
People in general, especially younger generations, are more rude and less respectful of people around them. We've become such a "me first" society that it never crosses a lot of minds that their behaviors and choices will affect people around them. I've heard of people -- and have even met a few -- who will vandalize a property or steal something from someone's car, and it never occurs to them that they're actually committing a crime. Some have even said they behaved like this for "fun" or were simply "bored."
That doesn't mean law enforcement has to stop, however. Criminals need to be caught, and they need to be punished. If the tools and technology are available to help cops clamp down on crime, they should take advantage of it.
It's just too bad that normal people have to have their privacy invaded to make our communities safer.
CHARLIE KRAEBEL is editor of the Recorder
and thinks it's no one's business if he wants
a slice of bacon-ranch pizza at 1 in the morning. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.