Pine Bluff Commercial columnist Matthew Pate took note recently that Aldermen George Stepps proposed a municipal ordinance to require owners of fast food restaurants, filling stations and convenience stores to install and maintain surveillance cameras inside their businesses.
In less than a month, Pate explained, Pine Bluff had endured two violent, life-ending robberies of convenience stores and appeared eager to affect a solution.
While Stepps is to be congratulated for taking the initiative, Pate added, he paid no heed to the expansive scholarly literature on the efficacy of these surveillance systems.
And, Pate observed, evidenced-based, “empirically validated research” is something this council tries to avoid. The Center for Problem Oriented Policing concludes that the effectiveness of these systems for crime prevention is “questionable,” Pate wrote.
“In their paper, ‘Multistate Study of Convenience Store Robberies,’ Charles Wellford, John MacDonald and Joan Weiss conclude, ‘…the deterrent effects of security devices, such as alarms and video cameras, have received mixed support’.”
Similarly, W.J. Crow and R. J. Erickson’s study, “Cameras and Silent Alarms: A Study of Their Effectiveness as a Robbery Deterrent,” finds “[no] significant difference in robbery between stores with cameras and those without.”
Pate, a Pine Bluff native who holds a doctoral degree in criminal justice and is a senior research fellow with the Violence Research Group at the University at Albany, notes another study determined that that to deter crime the surveillance systems must convenience the robber that he will be convicted if he commits a crime, he will be caught.
In other words, it is necessary to “de-motivate the potential offender.”
“For this crime prevention process to succeed, two elements must exist: The offender must be aware of the cameras’ presence,” Pate added. “The offender must believe the cameras present enough risk of capture to negate the rewards of the intended crime.”
In language a street thug can understand, is the average take of less than $800 in a convenience store robbery worth the risk of lethal injection at a state prison in Lincoln County?
Stepps and Pate probably did not read the early 1980s study in Pulaski County. The work is ancient history for academic circles.
It seems the Pulaski County sheriff, who years earlier was assigned to Jefferson County as a state trooper, was looking for a solution to the high armed robbery rate in Pulaski. Tommy Robinson, with much fanfare, announced a program of placing hidden deputies in random convenience and liquor stores armed with 12-gauge shotguns.
Yes, it resembles a police effort from a Clint Eastwood “Dirty Harry” movie. Robinson received a ton of favorable publicity from the program, which he called “Robinson roulette,” in which deputies with shotguns would rotate in hiding at participating retailers.
It worked. The number of armed robberies during Robinson’s two terms as sheriff dropped 96 percent. He declared the program a success in rural Pulaski County, but a clerk was shot to death in a participating store in Little Rock.
The thugs understood the new sheriff was serious. A 12-gauge shotgun is an answer to a social problem. It sends a much more powerful message to criminals than a pink iPhone and a pink iPad.
Robinson admitted years later he did not have the personnel to implement the program on the scale he discussed publically. On a typical night, one deputy was assigned to the rotation, not the dozens he promised.
“It worked,” was Robinson’s stock answer to his critics.
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Larry Fugate is a veteran journalist and former editor of The Pine Bluff Commercial. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (870) 329-7010.