May 1998: Someone’s Watching: Internet surveillance in Roslyn Heights

By Emi Endo, Newsday, May 28, 1998

In what community leaders say is the first such use in the nation, a Roslyn Heights civic group is installing on its streets hidden surveillance cameras that will feed live pictures over the Internet.

Members of the Roslyn Country Club Civic Association, which has already put up dozens of hidden videocameras and hired a private security patrol, say their efforts over the past decade have reduced robberies and burglaries dramatically.

“We’re trying to get our crime rate to zero, said Ronald Steiger, patrol commissioner for the civic association.

The 35 new cameras will help alert security officials to possible crimes. In addition, Steiger said, a mother whose child is walking across the street can check in on him or her online. “A parent can watch a child walk from corner to corner,” he said.

Civil libertarians, however, say such technological advances infringe on people’s freedom.

“It’s very disturbing,” said Barbara Bernstein, executive director of the Nassau chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “When the private sector starts taking over the role of Big Brother, that’s scary.”

While there appear to be no legal grounds on which to challenge the practice, Bernstein said,

“it’s sad, it’s unfortunate, it’s something that we will watch in case it’s abused.”

Steiger countered, “We’re not Big Brother watching the people who live here. We’re watching out for them.”

About a decade ago, the community was plagued with as many as three dozen burglaries, robberies, automobile thefts and vandalism incidents a year.

Starting in 1991, residents agreed to chip in $365 a year per household to pay for a private security patrol.

The vast majority of the 712 households participate, Steiger said.

At any time, there are three marked and unmarked security vehicles from Elmont-based Copstat Security cruising the well-tended streets on which homes are valued at $450.000 to $1.4 million, he said.

Several years ago, the civic association set up 29 hidden time-delay videocameras with day and night lenses and posted signs informing motorists that they were being monitored.

After a crime takes place, security workers review the videotapes and pass on any unknown license plate numbers to the police, Steiger said. The workers have a list of residents’ license plates.

The efforts have paid off, Steiger said, citing the current crime rate of only two or three incidents a year, mostly car thefts.

Over the next few months, Visual Security of Great Neck will place 35 cameras around the outskirts of the community, including the entrances from the Long Island Expressway and the

Northern State Parkway. The project will cost about $60,000, but residents will not have to pay any additional fees.

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