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Posted on Sun, May 27, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Neighborhood security cameras prove their worth in West Willow

By Tony Dearing

It’s been nearly a year now since security cameras were installed in Ypsilanti Township's West Willow neighborhood as a pilot program, and based on the role they just played in the arrest of a man suspected in a series of sexual assaults, we wouldn’t expect to see the plug pulled on them anytime soon.

We have said before - and we continue to believe - that security cameras are no panacea when it comes to fighting crime. But neither the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office nor Ypsilanti Township officials suggested otherwise when they entered into an agreement last spring to give the cameras a try.


The West Willow neighborhood of Ypsilanti Township has been a pilot site for surveillance cameras.

Tom Perkins | For

Any time you mount security cameras on utility poles in public places, and particularly in a neighborhood, it inevitably raises the specter of Big Brother. And privacy rights are indeed paramount. But in this case, the West Willow neighborhood was willing to be involved in this pilot program, and while the experience so far has not raised any new privacy concerns, it has underscored the ability of video surveillance to help police make an arrest in a high-profile crime case.

Earlier this month, the neighborhood and the Willow Run School District rightfully reacted with alarm after reports that a man had attempted to grope two girls as they were on the way to school in the morning, and attempted to abduct a third girl.

Sheriff’s deputies, the schools and residents all quickly mobilized to get the word out, and the school district posted staff members in the neighborhood along walking routes to help keep students safe as they went to and from school. As the criminal investigation intensified, deputies released an image of a suspect, riding a bicycle.

The image was captured by one of the security cameras mounted on DTE Energy-owned utility poles in the neighborhood, and authorities say it led to direct information that helped them identify and arrest a suspect - a 26-year-old man who lived in the neighborhood and has a history of sexual offenses. He faces 13 criminal charges.

A year ago, when the security cameras first were being proposed, we editorialized in support of them, as an experiment worth trying in a neighborhood that was already working with sheriff’s deputies to take a comprehensive, proactive approach to addressing a recent spike in violent crime.

We acknowledged at the time that security cameras had a mixed record, at best, in deterring crime. But we also added this observation: “They can be a tool to help officers solve crimes in cases where they capture a clear image of a suspect or vehicle, leading to an arrest that police might not have otherwise made. For that reason, we think they’re worth trying in West Willow . . .’’

Security cameras are no substitute for adequate police patrols or citizen involvement in keeping neighborhoods safe, but as part of a broader strategy, there is a role they can play in helping solve crimes.

It’s hard to imagine a more dramatic example of exactly that. Mike Radzik, director of the Ypsilanti Township office of community standards, told that the ability to quickly distribute a high-quality image of the suspect taken in close proximity to the assaults turned out to be a “powerful and effective tool’’ for making an arrest. “This is exactly what the township board envisioned when the pilot program was initiated," he said.

Radzik has emphasized that the security cameras only view public spaces, and are not pointed toward private residences.

Angela Barbash, who is involved with the New West Willow Neighborhood Association, says she’s heard from residents who were impressed by the role that the cameras played in helping identify the suspect. However, she adds that the neighborhood group requested written policies that spell out how privacy will be protected during the pilot program, and is still waiting for that. While there have not been abuses of privacy rights that we’re aware of, written policies are a good safeguard and the township and sheriff’s office should make good on that request.

Overall, the pilot program has proven its worth. Security cameras are no substitute for adequate police patrols or citizen involvement in keeping neighborhoods safe, but as part of a broader strategy, there is a role they can play in helping solve crimes. It’s important to balance privacy concerns against neighborhood safety, but there are appropriate ways to do that. The best endorsement of this program may be that other neighborhoods now are interested in having security cameras installed. If law-abiding citizens are worried about crime, perhaps it’s time to give the criminals something more to worry about, too.

(This editorial was published in today's newspaper and reflects the opinion of the Editorial Board at


Middle America

Tue, May 29, 2012 : 2:11 a.m.

Odd how so many regular posters on bemoan socialism and "big government" but apparently are completely in support of a police state.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Mon, May 28, 2012 : 4:54 p.m.

@Al Feldt: If these cameras were ubiquitous in our cities and used by law enforcement to look for crimes, where would we draw the line at regulating social mores and punishing what the majority decides is "deviant" behavior? Please remember that common social behaviors of many types are illegal in many states and that these social mores have changed over time. The legislatures can add (or subtract) new social mores to the list of banned activities at any time. Personally, I try to live by the motto, "If someone says something bad about me, I must live my life so that no one will believe it." (Oscar Wilde) As a bank president, many secrets are confided to me and I am all too aware how many *good* people are otherwise flawed in some large or small way. I am not saying that this technology is universally bad or dangerous. I said in my first comment that we should be aware of the dangers of this technology. "However, she adds that the neighborhood group requested written policies that spell out how privacy will be protected during the pilot program, and is still waiting for that. While there have not been abuses of privacy rights that we're aware of, written policies are a good safeguard and the township and sheriff's office should make good on that request."


Mon, May 28, 2012 : 4:40 p.m.

What privacy implications? The cameras are in public areas, where there is no expectation of privacy. You're under surveillance every time you fill up your tank or go to Target. If the cameras assist in investigation or deter crime, why not give them a go?


Mon, May 28, 2012 : 1:18 p.m.

People usually relinquish their civil liberties most easily when they are sold a line about security.


Mon, May 28, 2012 : 3:12 p.m.

The only "line' that you seem to have been sold ( and happily bought!) is that aggressively evil folks , from pervs like the one in west willow, to jihadists are just a 'line' instead of regrettably quite real.

Al Feldt

Mon, May 28, 2012 : 11:24 a.m.

I have never experienced any privacy when behaving well or badly in public places like Liberty Plaza, parking garages, or even the sidewalk in front of my house. All I have ia a degree of anonymity due to the fact I live in a fairly large city and many around me do not know who I am. Putting cameras up so others can see what is happening in public seems to me the perfect solution for the "freedom" urban anonymity allows others to misbehave and bother other people. As a child, I knew that my neighbors would tell my parents on me if I did something wrong. As an adultmember of society, I have no qualms about others seeing me and reporting me or stopping me if I behave badly in public, whether in person or on tape. Orwelll warned us against bad government, not loss of privacy. REmember that his version of big brother included cameras installed in private homes.

Monica R-W

Mon, May 28, 2012 : 6:30 a.m.

When the cameras discussion came before the NWWNA (which I sat on as a Executive Board Member at the time), concerns like those written above did indeed come forth. At the time, the overwhelming belief was within this neighborhood, protecting our community from crime was most important. One year later, the courageous move by the NWWNA working with WCSO and Ypsilanti Township Board of Trustees officials to install the cameras in the community, assisted local law enforcement officials with taking a suspect in a vicious crime against children with our neighborhood, off the streets. So far, this is a prime example when a community is determine to protect itself against crimes, people and officials can work together to do so. As for the other comments above, which in my humble opinion are off the mark of why it was the utmost importance to remove this 'person' from our neighborhood....the cameras worked in this case, plain and simple. Also, children and parents can breathe a bit easier knowing this individuals' residence is currently at the WSCO Hogback Road facility, and not within the West Willow Community. Monica RW

The Black Stallion3

Mon, May 28, 2012 : 10:44 a.m.

So we can assume that you are in favor of having cameras.....correct?


Mon, May 28, 2012 : 1:27 a.m.

Under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution there is no reasonable expectation of privacy and hence no constitutional proscription against the deployment of visual or audio surveillance equipment to record activity occurring in a public place. That said, the governmental agency acquiring information and activity gleaned by this surveillance must be governed by stringent operating procedures to ensure that legal but damaging personal information cannot be used against a citizen by government representatives for ulterior motives.For instance, if a political office candidate is captured on tape consuming alcohol or engaged in other embarrassing behavior, a chief of police could deliver the tape to a citizen under a Freedom of Information Act request and the embarrassing tape could derail someone's political office aspirations. We live in an age where federal intelligence programs such as ECHELON have the ability to intercept private telecommunications of virtually every American. Now a 2 billion-dollar facility is being constructed in Utah with the capacity of storing trillions of items of telecommunications. The potential for governmental abuses with this program is staggering. In the past FBI programs such as COINTELPRO, Operation Boulder, and Operation CHAOS violated the civil rights of hundreds of thousands of Americans. This precedent of such abuses should serve as a warning about the dangers inherent in initiating general surveillance without suspicion of a specific crime.


Mon, May 28, 2012 : 2:38 a.m.

Very well written post. Thank you. Regulation to prevent (or more realistically, limit abuse) is critical. Though I personally believe cases where circumstances would provide opportunity for abuse would likely pale in comparison to opportunities surveillance could provide for good, it is nonetheless something to take serious measures to try and prevent. I also believe that general surveillance need not be justified by suspicion of a specific crime, but can be more than warranted by focusing on areas where potential crimes may be more likely to occur. Here's how I look at it. If we had an unlimited budget for police we would probably welcome stationing beat cops near every busy corner and security patrol in every parking garage. Since we don't have these resources though, how is it more wrong to place electronic surveillance in these areas we'd like to patrol than it would be with human surveillance? Your points are all good, and I don't think I'm disagreeing with you, but simply emphasizing my personal priorities. I didn't read you as arguing against surveillance, but rather urging caution in preventing abuse. Still, when it comes down to the potential of surveillance maybe, just maybe having been able to help catch another criminal like the West Willow thug before he did more serious harm, it seems awfully difficult to argue against.

David Cahill

Sun, May 27, 2012 : 9:29 p.m.

With regard to screen names - ask yourself why Facebook doesn't allow them. My own view is that light is the best disinfectant.

Bruce W

Mon, May 28, 2012 : 2:31 p.m.

Facebook does allow them, I know of many that do not use their real name on Facebook, I don't have my full name showing because I don't want someone that I am not friends with and has a different opinion than I do to get out the phone book and start calling me at 3AM when they are drunk to argue with me or call me names or doing a drive by shooting at my house, there are a LOT of crazy people out there!


Sun, May 27, 2012 : 11:48 p.m.

Facebook has no idea if you are posting your real name or a fake name... People only use their real name to connect with people they know. Best way I can put it so you understand is to say "Get a clue, Dude!!!"

The Black Stallion3

Sun, May 27, 2012 : 11:23 p.m.

Carry on David.....Have no one is after you.


Sun, May 27, 2012 : 9:15 p.m.

its Ypsilanti ... of course adding security cameras would result in catching the crimes can be posted on YouTube!

Tex Treeder

Sun, May 27, 2012 : 7:04 p.m.

Alas, Mr. Ranzini, this battle has been lost. The vast majority of people in this country are more than willing to give up their privacy for the illusion of security. You can see it in the comments like "If you have nothing to hide, why should these cameras bother you?" I feel ashamed of the sheeple that my fellow citizens have become. With Memorial Day this weekend, I wonder how many of our fallen soldiers would be proud of the cowardly decisions that we, collectively, have made, and if they would wonder if they died in vain for liberties we no longer value.


Sun, May 27, 2012 : 11:54 p.m.

I think you meant to say "willing to give up their security for the illusion of privacy". There's no privacy in public areas to be lost. Most of the commercial properties you enter are already recording, and in any public area you are already, well, in public view. Is something sacred lost when what you do in public view happens to be captured in images? In some minds i guess this is only true if the owners of those cameras happen to be the evil city government. Unless you subscribe to a religion which believes photographs capture or steal the soul, I guess I fail to see how anyone could feel their rights to have been violated. Sure, there's the Orwellians and tin foil hat crowd, but guess what - 1984 came and went nearly three decades ago, and the only newspeak to have been imposed is by Twitter and lazy text messagers. Of course there's potential for abuse. Maybe out of frustration in not being able to make a strong case, some prosecutor may spend weeks going through recorded footage to try and find a guy peeing in an alley and nail him on indecent exposure. Beyond that, I have a hard time seeing how public surveillance cameras could provide an opportunity for viation of privacy which isn't already already there for the powers to use. I can see lots of instances however, where they could serve quite well for the good of our society and the individuals it is comprised of. I'm very glad they were able to apprehend this suspect in West Willow so quickly and get him off the street BEFORE he succeeded in doing anything worse. How's the search going for the serial rapist from the Ann Arbor parking structures last summer coming along by the way? Oh, we haven't found him yet? Perhaps he'll make a showing in the new underground structure this summer. Too bad there will be no surveillance cameras around to help catch him if he does. At least I can keep peace of mind knowing that I've kept my privacy sacred, um, in public places.

The Black Stallion3

Sun, May 27, 2012 : 11:22 p.m.

Hey Tex.........who are you referring to as sheeples?


Sun, May 27, 2012 : 8:09 p.m.

The very term 'sheeple'-- used in a mindless, groupspeak rote way by you supposed "free thinking "individualists ( who choose to remain blissfully clueless about t existential dangers, both domestic and foreign) ---says alot about both your 'free thinking individuality ' and your ability to express yourselves in non cliched, "individual-y" ways.

David Cahill

Sun, May 27, 2012 : 4:43 p.m.

I see there are a lot of statists lurking here in the commentariat. If you folks are so willing to give up your privacy, how about not hiding behind screen names on Oh, right. That's different. 8-)


Sun, May 27, 2012 : 8:03 p.m.

david; re screennames...i personally use one less out of fear of "the evil (to you, evidently)state' than out of concern for the civilian nuts ---both far right and far left-- that populate this and other online sites ( and presumably walk free!) and from whom i've received hatemail ( always anonymous!!) when i have frequently used my real name in letters to the editor, op eds etc. get off your sanctimonious highhorse.

The Black Stallion3

Sun, May 27, 2012 : 5:06 p.m.

Why? Would you want to go after the ones that do not agree with you?

The Black Stallion3

Sun, May 27, 2012 : 5:04 p.m.


Bruce W

Sun, May 27, 2012 : 2:30 p.m.

If you are not breaking the law then there is nothing to worry about, criminals and lawyers are the ones that don't want the cameras. If you are paranoid of the cameras MOVE to another area without cameras. With all the crime in West Willow I think the cameras are great for helping keep people safe, I wish they would put some up in my neighborhood. I wish they could also detect the VERY LOUD bass coming from vehicles and ticket them.


Tue, May 29, 2012 : 5:40 p.m.

And as Mr. Ranzini alludes to, there is a long history of governments of all sorts INCLUDING our own with mission creep. Things done for the greater good often proves the adage " the road to hell is paved with good intentions." Without Barb's call for a written use policy, it would be all too easy to move the goal posts to the point or add ordinances to the point that you may indeed break laws without even knowing. For example, loitering. Can I be stopped and accosted simply for waiting on a street corner for my tardy friend to give me a lift to the movies? Maybe not now but how easy for it to become "justified?"

5c0++ H4d13y

Mon, May 28, 2012 : 3:52 p.m.

yea, 'cause, the wrong person has never been investigated, charged and convicted of a crime in the US.


Sun, May 27, 2012 : 1:50 p.m.

Will Stephen Lange Ranzini please run for elected office. I like the way he thinks.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Mon, May 28, 2012 : 7:37 p.m.

@zax: Thanks for the compliment! @The Black Stallion3: Huh? I have advocated repeatedly elsewhere for more police to be able to investigate crimes and catch criminals (Ann Arbor currently has too few in my opinion). I have also advocated repeatedly elsewhere for tougher sentences on specific types of criminals such as graffiti vandals and violent criminals.

The Black Stallion3

Sun, May 27, 2012 : 2:17 p.m.

He would probably let all of the prisoners go free because they didn't mean to do it.....Is this the kind of change you want?

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Sun, May 27, 2012 : 1:43 p.m.

@Mark Hergott & The Black Stallion 3: If you aren't familiar with the book "1984" then perhaps you are familiar with the recent Tom Cruise movie "Minority Report"? In this vision of the future every public place is monitored with video cameras. With Google style face recognition technology we can be identified wherever we go when cameras are present. People living under this condition will ultimately lose their freedom and end up living under a totalitarian state. "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." "A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have," - President Gerald R. Ford


Sun, May 27, 2012 : 9:24 p.m.

Tom Cruise, George Orwell, etc. Quite an imagination. West Willow has a surveillance system, that is ALL. Perhaps you should move from your safe gated community to West Willow and experience some harsh reality.

The Black Stallion3

Sun, May 27, 2012 : 5:05 p.m.

You could run for VP


Sun, May 27, 2012 : 2:11 p.m.

"We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm." George Orwell

The Black Stallion3

Sun, May 27, 2012 : 1 p.m.

The only people worried about surveillance are the ones with something to hide.

Homeland Conspiracy

Sun, May 27, 2012 : 12:43 p.m.


Stephen Lange Ranzini

Sun, May 27, 2012 : 12:27 p.m.

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Thomas Jefferson Whileit is great that the child molester was caught, we should be cognizant of the dangers of this technology. Big Brother and "1984" come quickly to my mind. Surely the solutions can be sought elsewhere?


Mon, May 28, 2012 : 3:29 a.m.

Thanks for catching my simple mistake. My dog ate my homework.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Sun, May 27, 2012 : 7:05 p.m.

@Nancy Dean: thanks very much for pointing out my error on the quote wrongly attributed to Thomas Jefferson. Ironically, I actually knew that and wrote the opposite of what I intended. As I was typing I was thinking "It is frequently attributed to Jefferson, but is a Ben Franklin quote.". Oops! Sigh. The President Ford quote below is also frequently incorrectly attributed. As to the substance of the discussion, I recognize that this technology has positive uses. I noted that in my first comment. I actually choose to live in a building downtown and work at a bank that has extensive video surveillance deployed, but for me that's a choice I make and could opt to find a different place to live or a different line of work. Lastly, I would note that video surveillance technology is widely deployed in China and highly popular among the state security police as a means of political control. While this technology may be useful to catch criminals, the laws can change over time. The same technology could be turned against people for these new crimes, some of which could be political crimes, hence the reference to "1984" and "Minority Report". As with all technology, it has a positive and a negative side to its widespread use.


Sun, May 27, 2012 : 2:42 p.m.

Right, next thing you know banks will start installing surveillance cameras. I'm sure the idea of this just makes you shudder.


Sun, May 27, 2012 : 2:36 p.m.

Mr. Ranzini - the quotation you posted should not be attributed to Thomas Jefferson - it belongs to Benjamin Franklin. Mr. Franklin's context of "essential liberty" in this quotation was of the right to self governance. I think most Americans would include this as an "essential liberty". It would seem to me to be a stretch to include "the right to not have your image electronically captured while in a public place" be defined as an "essential liberty". Would you also argue against public surveillance by a person? Does that include raising taxes to be able to afford more police officers, or should we make use of technology to be more efficient? Much closer to an essential liberty in my book would be the right to have your child be able to walk to school along a public thoroughfare without being assaulted.


Sun, May 27, 2012 : 2:12 p.m.

the hypothetical dangers of such technology are more than offset by the real dangers such technology can prevent / remedy ( as was just done in this neighborhood) . get beyond the platitudes and historically out of context's not becoming to an aspiring pol.


Sun, May 27, 2012 : 2:01 p.m.

Just google and learn how security cameras have helped solve many crimes (especially those against children). I do not feel my liberty threatened by a security camera outside my home. There is no Big Brother and 1984 was just a fictional novel. It's long past 1984 and using modern technology to keep us all safe makes good sense to me.

Mark Hergott

Sun, May 27, 2012 : 1:06 p.m.

If you are in public, people can see you. I see no violation of liberty in there being a permanent record of what you do in public. Why do you feel that there ought not be a documentation of your actions in public, Mr. Ranzini?


Sun, May 27, 2012 : 12:09 p.m.

Now imagine how many opportunities may have bee provided to assist investigations in Ann Arbor if cameras were standard in all city parking garages.