I was talking to a young lady some years ago who had become alarmed at a recent missing persons case in the news. It seems a female college student, much like herself, had disappeared from the street on her way back home after a night out with friends. The fear was that violent criminals had set upon the ingenue, kidnapping her from a well trafficked sidewalk without anyone noticing, all for their own vile amusements.
Somewhat far fetched and dramatic, but possible. I started to suggest a few places where the young woman could find qualified firearms instructors, but she demurred. Instead of bothering to take the steps necessary to apply for a CCW license, she claimed that she had devised a sure fire defense against violent criminal attack without having to carry a gun!
Was it intensive martial arts training? The money to hire armed bodyguards to surround her at all times? Oh, wait! Maybe it was a suit made of porcupine quills!
None of those were her methods.
If she was feeling uneasy as she walked along the street, she would simply use her cell phone to call one of her friends.
As she walked along, I was told, the person on the other side of the conversation would be constantly updated as to the location of our plucky co-ed. If a gang of criminals should set their white slaving intentions upon her, then her buddy would immediately call the police within seconds of the snatch! The authorities would be vectored in to the place where the initial crime took place, and so would lose no time in conducting their investigation!
My thought was that it would be infinitely safer to take the steps necessary to keep out of the clutches of violent criminals in the first place, instead of relying on others to call the cops after deliberately allowing rapists and kidnappers easy access to what they most desired.
The idea is that a recording, both visual and audio, will be taken by the phone. With a click of a button, the data will be transmitted to whoever the user has previously designated. This can be friends, parents, or the police. To foil violent criminals who might not be deterred by the news that Grandma will get a video of her darling grandchild being subdued by a pipe wrench to the face, the phone can also be set up to issue verbal warnings and countdowns.
My reaction was immediate and visceral. Suffice it to say that I am supremely unimpressed. But how to express my thoughts without using profanity?
The authors of the app claim that “The best deterrent against violence is the guarantee of being caught and convicted.” This goes against my own direct experience, where most violent criminals only pay attention to the guarantee of overwhelming and decisive violence directed towards them should they be stupid enough to try anything. But I am willing to consider the possibility that this may be right. What evidence exists that violent crime is prevented if the police have access to recordings of the crime?
In response to rising crime rates, the United Kingdom has invested a great deal of money in video cameras that are directly monitored by the police. They are installed virtually everywhere there is a sizable population, causing more than a few people to claim that the UK is well on its way to becoming an oppressive police state. In fact, some estimates place the number at one camera for every 11 people in the country.
A shocking number, to be sure. And yet there are far more cameras than there were four years ago, when it was revealed that Great Britain had more cameras than China!
So the UK must be a peaceful paradise, right? No violent crime at all! At least it should be, if the claim that video evidence of crimes deters violent criminals from their greatest joy has any truth behind it. Since the majority of the government cameras are installed outside to monitor activity in public spaces, street crime must be a thing of the past!
Unfortunately for the authors of the smart phone app, this is simply not the case. Attacks on the street in London are greater than those suffered in Harlem, perhaps the worst neighborhood in New York for such crimes. Recent statistics suggest that you are eight times more likely to be the victim of violent crime if you live in the UK than if you were living in the United States.
So the crime rate is very high, but it surely has dropped significantly since the government started to pay for all those cameras!
Actually, no. The situation has hardly changed in more than decade, when it was reported that crime rates were much higher in the UK than in the US. It looks like the promise of reduced crime though increased police surveillance simply doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny. (Get it! Surveillance doesn’t hold up to scrutiny!)
So what are my final thoughts on this supposedly wonderful weapon in the fight against violent crime? They are unchanged from what I wrote above. I think it would be much more useful to keep a wary eye out for suspicious or threatening people in order to avoid them, instead of walking blissfully into criminal clutches and relying on a phone to record their evil acts so they can be punished after they are through.
And what about the missing persons case mentioned at the beginning of this essay? It seems that the young woman in question had decided to shack up with one of her friends-with-benefits for a few days without doing the responsible thing and informing people that she would be out of touch for a time. An app to record her activity would not have solved any crimes, but may have provided some interesting video.