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Praise for cameras reopens Madison’s surveillance debate

MADISON (WKOW) — During his news conference about the arrest in the Langdon St. assault case, police chief Mike Koval took the chance to advocate for surveillance cameras in Madison.

“Thank God, thank God big brother is watching in the city places and public spaces so we can better deter crime and actually solve crime,” he said.

In this case he said surveillance was essential to finding and arresting the right suspect and this is far from the only case. Police have been using private and public cameras on homes, in businesses and on the city streets to help investigate crimes since they’ve been around.

People like Brandon Scholz have taken notice.

“As business owners, and people who manage properties and buildings and commercial manufacturers, the responsible thing is to put one in,” he said.

As president of the Wisconsin Grocer’s Association, Scholz believes the cameras, public or private, have been doing their jobs to protect businesses and as long as they’re put up voluntarily, he said he’s in support.

“Are there too many? I don’t know that that’s a question you can answer as long as you have crimes being committed and victims.”

Kabzuag Vaj from Freedom, Inc. disagrees.

“It doesn’t solve the issues of poverty. It doesn’t solve communal issues, it just adds onto criminalizing communities,” she said.

An advocate for limited policing, Vaj said she looks at cameras more as an invasion of privacy for victims and bystanders than a preventative measure.

“The amount of money that we put into this camera or this program if we place it into communities and if we really work and invest in people and invest in services and invest in education and invest in economic development we know that we can change lives,” she said.

She acknowledges surveillance has played a role in solving crimes but she believes its usefulness is exaggerated. Vaj said the only time we hear about it is when the cases work. Community outreach, she said, has a greater impact and doesn’t work just one case at a time.

“The solution to safety in the city of Madison is not around cameras,” Vaj said. “It’s not around more policing. It’s not around investing more into a department that’s already overly invested. We need to invest in people.”

As for Scholz, he believes cameras will and should stick around as long as they make businesses and homeowners feel safe.

“Those people who want to put them in for their own reasons have a right to do so,” he said.

The last time the city took up the issue of surveillance cameras, was April of 2018.

The Common Council voted in favor of a measure to require all convenience stores to have proper security cameras. It passed 5 to 1.

Michelle Alfini

Reporter, WKOW

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