Red And Blue Light Traffic Cameras: Crime Deterrent Or Hazard?

Photo by Derek Bridges

Ever since the New Orleans Police Department announced its decision to finance a network of crime cameras throughout the city, members of the community have expressed objections. There are many concerns regarding the new surveillance network and its constitutional legitimacy in a city where many people come to let loose and enjoy themselves.

New Orleans is a place that cultivates an atmosphere in which celebration is encouraged, and has become a way of life at certain times of the year. However, an increasing crime rate has led New Orleans to try several different things to combat crime in the city – including the so-called “crime cameras.” But many people question just how much difference the cameras make and at what cost to its residents.


Public officials seem to brush off accusations that the cameras are anything but helpful. Still, several local, as well as national publications, have suggested that both the cameras themselves and the flashing red and blue lights make many people uncomfortable – like they are always under surveillance. Some residents say the cameras are a good thing and that they feel safer having them in place, but others question if they are achieving their intended goal.

I, for one, question the legitimacy of having flashing cameras on every corner and can’t help but wonder what effect they will have on the city long-term. Whether they have a measurable impact on crime remains to be seen. Although the cameras allow the city to keep tabs on incidents in certain areas, the sad fact is that crime just moves. Furthermore, residents, in general, are uneasy with the Big Brother-style surveillance of almost every move they make, in some cases even on their front porch.

Another question that remains unanswered is the unintended side effect of having cameras instead of actual police officers and the way they affect the judgments and reactions of passing drivers. The flashing blue and red lights on every corner draw people’s attention, whether it’s intended to or not. It’s possible in some cases these lights can be mistaken for a wreck or other incident which may cause drivers to take actions they wouldn’t usually make. In some cases, the cameras could cause a wreck. At the very least, they are distracting, and the worst case could cause a catastrophic incident.

One can surmise that these supposedly-proactive surveillance devices might be a violation of the “Clear And Present Danger” clause to the First Amendment, an array of exceptions to freedom of speech, expression, and assembly. The crime cameras could be viewed as creators of hysteria, equivalent to yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. They might also be considered a violation of the Fourth Amendment – which states clearly that Americans’ privacy may not be invaded without a warrant based on probable cause.

Photo by Craig Stanfill

Citizens are also concerned that such invasive and excessive surveillance might prove to do irreparable damage to what makes New Orleans the unique city it is and has always been known to be. People can’t help but wonder, “Will Mardi Gras still be any fun?” The tainting of the signature intrigue of New Orleans, the tourist industry, one of our most significant sources of revenue may take a blow if tourists feel that New Orleans no longer has the laid-back, fun vibe it once had.

While finishing a meal at the restaurant, Mikimoto, on Carrollton a couple of months ago, I witnessed a drunk driver run off of the road and crush a giant planter outside the front of the restaurant. When questioned, the security guard that generally sits in front of the local business said “We put that there because this has happened before.” The car behind the (presumably drunk) driver ended up on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. It is not a leap to attribute the first motorist’s reaction to a red and blue street camera outside of Magnolia Discount, a 24-hour gas station and convenience store on the outskirts of the “Gert town” neighborhood, more known for drug activity Pre Katrina.

So are these over scrutinizing, for some vision or judgment-impairing fixtures saturating our once charming, laid back city more a solution (as authorities claim they are) or the cause of more problems? Are the reasons for their existence as pure and nonprejudicial as those behind the “plan” claim? Many New Orleanians would say, “Heck, no!”

Margaret Marley Armstrong is an actress as well as a regular contributor of culture and lifestyle content at Big Easy Magazine. You can view more of her work here.

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