Policing by video in Ypsilanti Township

As we’ve established here in the past, folks in Ypsi Township are reluctant at best to pay for police services, in spite of their soaring violent crime rate. Sure, they may pass an occasional millage when the murder rate reaches a particularly terrifying level, but, for the most part, they’ve shown, like good Tea Partiers, that they’d rather hoard their money and arm themselves, than pay for law enforcement officers. Well, AnnArbor.com is reporting today that these folks in the Township might have come up with a cost-effective, non-human solution to their problems. Apparently they’re going to put their highest-crime neighborhood – West Willow – under constant video surveillance.

By way of background, here are the relative police staffing numbers between our two communities as of a few months ago.

…The City of Ypsilanti currently employees 34.5 police officers for 22,000 people in a 4.5 square mile area. That’s 1 officer per 638 people, or 1 for every 0.13 square mile. The Township, meanwhile, contracts for 31 sheriff’s deputies for 49,000 people in a 31.8 square mile area. That’s 1 deputy per 1580 people, or 1 for every square mile…

And, here, with more on the specific neighborhood in question, is a quote from a Township resident calling himself EOS.

…Crime is regularly reported in this neighborhood, with an active neighborhood watch program that has strong ties with the Sheriff department. What can police do in this situation? Can they impose curfews for adults in this neighborhood? How can they crack down harder on this neighborhood and avoid accusations of racial bias? More money, more police, and more midnight basketball games don’t do anything to address the root cause of crime…

Granted, my survey sample is quite small, but my sense is that most folks in the Township, many of whom own guns, ascribe to the, “pray for these people, and, when that doesn’t work, shoot them dead,” philosophy. And, yes, I think you could argue that there’s an element of racism in the preceding quote.

So, last night, instead of making money available for an increased police presence, or, better yet, community-based educational and social service programs, the Ypsilanti Township Board of Trustees voted unanimously to initiate a pilot program, “to install five security cameras in public areas throughout the (West Willow) neighborhood.” The following clip comes from AnnArbor.com:

…Testing the cameras there also makes sense because the neighborhood only has five entrances and is “defined and contained”, Radzik said. West Willow is a triangular-shaped neighborhood bordered by I-94 to the west and south; the I-94 service drive to north and west and Wiard Road to the east…

So, not to be hyperbolic about it, but the Township will pretty much be creating a virtual prison for our local under-class, in which each of the limited entrance and exit points will be monitored 24-7.

Leaving aside the privacy issue for the moment, I think it’s important to at least note that cameras, such as the ones proposed, don’t prevent crime. They just record it. Or, in this case, they just record the license numbers of cars entering and exiting crime scenes. So, people in this community, under this plan, will continue to be murdered, but we’ll likely be able to identify the perpetrators before they have an opportunity to strike other, “more valuable” targets.

Personally, I’d like to see the Township maintain a level of law enforcement more in line with their population numbers, but many are of the opinion that it wouldn’t matter. Our Township reader, EOS, had the following to say after one of this year’s Township murders.

…If there were an police officer standing at the scene of the crime, they still would have acted after the fact and would have been unable to stop it…

Do you agree? Are these individuals like wild animals that cannot be controlled? Will they continue to murder one another even with cops walking their neighborhoods, and appropriate programs are enacted in their schools? Should we just give up on them, and place cameras at the entrances and exits to their neighborhood, so that we can find the killers later? Is that the kind of community that we want to live in? Don’t the hard-working, tax-paying men and women of West Willow deserve better?

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  1. Knox
    Posted April 7, 2011 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    It’s like watching the prequel to RoboCop play out in real time.

  2. Burt Reynolds
    Posted April 7, 2011 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    I like the idea. I wouldn’t call it a “quasi-prison” or an invasion of privacy either. The cameras are on the entrances, and not directly on someones house. The fact is, WW is a high crime area, and I would bet that both Ypsi, and Ypsi Twp residents alike, if asked in private, would like it to all go away. So, if putting some cameras up at the entrances helps stop a few crimes, without pushing up our already absurd taxes in light of the services and quality of life we receive, then I’m all for it. My question is: Why would anyone oppose?

  3. Glen S.
    Posted April 7, 2011 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    I find everything about this story incredibly disturbing — most notably the following:

    – That Township officials apparently feel the natural outcome of two recently-failed police millage elections is to give up on building support for public safety — and go about encircling entire troubled (troublesome?) neighborhoods in an Orwellian network of spy-cams.

    – That Township officials approved this unanimously, without, apparently — at least according to the A2.com story — any doubts or concerns regarding privacy, civil liberties, or civil rights.

    – That Township officials — seemingly already anticipating community defiance to the imposition of their police-state tactics — are considering whether they will need to pay more to purchase nearly-indestructible “anti-ballistic” cameras.

    – That Township officials admit they haven’t yet “decided,” whether residents will be informed via signage that their activities are under surveillance, or if they will be deployed “covertly.” (!!)

    – That Director of Police Services Mike Radzik had the nerve to say, “If opposition does present itself, I would be interested in hearing why.” … as if he can’t imagine any reason why neighborhood residents would not warmly welcome surveillance cameras watching their move .. and, of course, suggesting that old excuse used by authoritarians everywhere: “If you’re not doing anything wrong, you don’t have anything to worry about.”

    – That although this is being described as a “pilot”, Supervisor Stumbo is already suggesting the program could be expanded Township-wide.

    I know that times are tough and municipal budgets are shrinking, and I appreciate the desperation of public officials charged finding ways to help keep neighborhoods safe — but are we really already at the point where we’re ready to just throw up our hands and say that the only cost-effective way to maintain public order is through establishing a system of 24/7 surveillance cameras?

    Call me foolishly optimistic — but is this also not an issue around which both civil-liberties-loving liberals and anti-big government, freedom-loving conservatives should be united in opposition?

  4. Edward
    Posted April 7, 2011 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    Of course, the “no big government” types in the Township are going to lap this up. As long as the cameras aren’t in their neighborhoods, it’s no problem. It’s the same with abortion. They don’t have a problem with the government stepping in to force poor black girls to have their babies, but, if it were their 14 year old daughter who had gotten knocked up, you can be sure that she’d be on the first bus to Canada. The hypocrisy is palpable.

  5. Kim
    Posted April 7, 2011 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    What if we just put walls up around West Willow so that it became like NYC in Escape from New York?

  6. Ez Marsay
    Posted April 7, 2011 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    I think Governor Snyder is working with Zingerman’s™ to install surveillance cameras in the bathrooms at the Sidetrack. Could one of our councilmen figure out a way to take that stream and broadcast it at the Corner Brewery? Speaking of which, I’ve never seen a person of color in Depot Town™. And given that one of our council hopefuls has been all but run out of town by the Ypsilanti cosa nostra, I’ve got to assume our own representatives are, pace the Township, closeted non-fans of people of color. In other words, the Township is proposing in piebald fashion a manifestation of a policy that has already been subtly enacted countwide.

  7. Posted April 7, 2011 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    This is not surprising. Surveillance strategies have long been used to control the poor.

    I was just watching a documentary on chip implants and one academic (Kevin Haggerty) rightly pointed out that scenarios of surveillance and invasion of privacy nearly always start with the poor and groups who have little representation.

    First, it’s current and former prisoners and lawbreakers who will be forced to be implanted with tracking devices, then the homeless, vagrants, the destitute, welfare recipients, temporary workers and on up.

    First, it is just like Mr. Reynolds suggests, a seemingly innocuous solution to a perceived threat, often performed with the approval of concerned citizens. The trouble are the wider societal implications of one group, which controls resources, singling out another group as inherently deviant; implications which are oft little considered in light of seemingly immediate threats.

    There is no grand big-brother conspiracy by a group of wicked intelligentsia, but there is a propensity for majority groups to wish to control other groups which they do not like. West Willow is nothing new and it won’t end there.

    Things like putting cameras in West Willow seem very harmless, and many within West Willow may even welcome the effort, but a camera can easily turn in to a wall.

  8. Glen S.
    Posted April 7, 2011 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    It also occurs to me that we will soon have whole generations of young people who, having become accustomed to (and perhaps even being comforted by) having surveillance cameras in schools, school buses, malls, parks — and now, even scanning the streets of their own neighborhoods — will end up becoming adults who won’t even bother to question the need for 24/7 Big Brother surveillance.

  9. Meta
    Posted April 7, 2011 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    I believe the Zingerman’s reference above has to do with the fact that Snyder is considering retraining government workers using the Zingtrain model.


  10. Stephen
    Posted April 7, 2011 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    The main thing for me, which Mark hits on, is that these cameras will a) be used to justify a decreased police presence, and b) won’t cut down on crime. Cameras are used to identify perpetrators after the fact. They are not monitored in real-time. It sounds to me like Stumbo and company are officially writing off this neighborhood.

  11. Anne
    Posted April 7, 2011 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Okay, enough with the Ypsi Twp bashing. Not all of us are gun toting tea party folks, but yes many of us don’t want to hand over more money to policing. Why? B/c many of us find it an infective and often corrupt institution. Many studies show that increasing police numbers and throwing more folks in jail does not act as an effective crime deterrent and does not affect the crime rate. I rather spend money on more effective deterrent programs and I’m not talking about the lousy DARE type programs, but programs that get at the root causes of crime. Poverty, education levels, and unemployment rates are bigger contributing factors to crime rates than police numbers.

    I have worked with several inner-ring suburbs of Detroit with large crime issues. In one of these suburbs I worked with both the city’s police department and the public housing commission. The public housing units (which had the communities highest crime rate) were required to pay for regular policing (these funds pay for overtime for the police officers that cruise that area) and that particular year the director, much to the dismay of the police department, decided not pay the police department for the services. Why? B/c as she told it the police were completely ineffective and drove thru the housing unit waving at the drug dealers and intimidating no one (she had the feeling that many were on the take). She said that she did a better job intimidating the “trouble makers” by strolling through the properties and rather spend those funds for job training and community policing than handing it over the police department.

    I’m not intimately familiar with the folks in the twp police dept or the county sheriffs and they may be pretty good guys and gals, but in general I’m not up to feeding the machine and I think many of my neighbors share that feeling.

  12. Posted April 7, 2011 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Maybe it would just be cheaper to instate curfews for all residents of West Willow. There must be a way to institute this while avoiding accusations of racial bias.

  13. Larry Seven Larry
    Posted April 7, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Anne, I believe you when you say that, in your case, it’s that don’t want to throw money away on a corrupt and failing system. I believe, however, that a lot of people use that as an excuse for not wanting to contribute financially toward creating a livable community. I’m not a big fan of the police, and I find it hard to argue in favor of putting more of them in our communities, but 1 deputy per 1580 people (or 1 per square mile), gives the impression that you don’t care, especially when there are reports of shootings in the Township every week. And this perception isn’t helped by the comments of your Township neighbors on this site, who seem to really believe that, instead of paying for cops, everyone should be armed and prepared to defend their own property.

  14. EOS
    Posted April 7, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    The cameras that will be installed for this pilot project are the same type currently used within the city limits of Ypsilanti on Eastern’s campus. They might deter some crime, and if their use results in arrests, they would definitely stop repeat offenses.

    Just wait a couple of weeks until you hear the Mayor’s plans for how he’s going to pay for police in the city. He wants a special assessment on top of the state maximum tax rate. Go ahead, keep spending more and taxing more and see where that gets you. Maybe you’ll win the race with Detroit to see how quickly businesses and residents flee.

  15. LAKE
    Posted April 7, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    I work on a special basis (not substitute teacher, but as an educator) in the Willow Run School System a few times a month, and in the area in another educational capacity on a regular basis. I’m sorry I’m being vague; I’m just trying to be anonymous.

    Willow Run’s schools really are the worst. The classes have too many students. The behavior of some, not all, of the kids, even at a very young age, is often one of rebellion. The teachers yell and use threats a lot because normal voiced warnings, even when repeated in tactful and nice ways, do not work. The teacher aides are paid probably about $8 an hour based on their appearance and vocabularies (I know this sounds mean). I get an overall sense that these kids have a lower quality of life than those reading this blog. It would make anyone, any kid, in this environment pretty angry and unable to learn. I bet their home life sucks, too.

    I know from conversations with these students that they are often “raised” by their grandmother who is tired. Or, their parent has a physical or mental disability. Something involving healthy parental guidance, proper nutrition, and basically someone just watching out for and paying attention to their lives is missing.

    The adults do not have opportunities to make money, and I KNOW from experience with helping them with resumes and job searching–they do not have hardly any computer skills and often can’t function email, and, overall, seem to have low abilities in terms of life skills.

    I can’t tout a solution that is not somewhat utopian, but I think if there were a decent paying and community-oriented factory in the area, that included some job training, maybe a daily meal provided, and early childhood care that was decent,…this would be the best solution.

    I’m sure you’ve stopped reading by now, but if not… I know this sounds crazy, but the people/workers had some rights/voice when it came to the work environment, which I think would impact their whole life, West Willow would be transformed in somewhat in 5 years and completely in 20.

    Police have nothing to do with anything I just said. Neither do cameras. I think when a person has little or no control over their environment, negative behavior occurs.

    I can’t think of anything else at this moment. Thank you for reading.

    . It’s all a cycle. I also

    Also, as an educator, I visit many schools in the area each month, and this allows me to compare them–I can tell you what schools I’d allow my child to go, and where I simply would not, based on my professional experiences.

  16. LAKE
    Posted April 7, 2011 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    Whoopsy, the last few lines of my previous post were edits that didn’t get trashed. SORRY! Try to ignore them.

  17. LAKE
    Posted April 7, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    To at least some small extent, I have to agree with EOS about the City of Ypsilanti’s taxes. I would LOVE to live in Ypsi City, but I know when I have enough $ saved up for a down payment, I’m not going to buy in the City, though I would if the taxes were lower.

    I think the citizen of the Ypsi City should rally/protest for EMU to contribute money to the City. It’s ridiculous that EMU students and workers use up the streets and TAKE UP ALL THE SPACE and pay nothing. I don’t think commuter students, which is most of the student body, spend much money off campus. The laws on this matter should be re-examined and the University should be forced to contribute to the City financially.

  18. Posted April 7, 2011 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    I don’t have the numbers handy right now, EOS, but the taxes we pay to the state of Michigan, and to the federal government for that matter, are lower now than they have been in generations.

    And I’m sorry for making blanket accusations about people in the Township, Anne. I should know better. I do think, however, there is, generally speaking, more of a “we’re in this all together” spirit in the City. Maybe that comes with the density. Regardless, I think it’s a good thing. And, like it or not, a lot of the Township people who leave comments on this site express a much different viewpoint. And, like I said, maybe they aren’t representative of everyone in the Township, but their views, at least as expressed here, are pretty uniform. They don’t want to pay for shared services. They don’t want to do anything but take of themselves.

  19. Camera Man
    Posted April 7, 2011 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

    I believe that elected Ypsilanti Township officials should, in good faith, simply agree to have cameras mounted on their foreheads to record their every move. If anyone needs close scrutiny, I think we can all agree, it is elected officials.

    Personally, I am in favor in putting cameras on all our heads. We could record moments of theft from employers (when commenting on blogs), illegal stock exchanges, child neglect, rape, speeding, molestation, tax fraud, the list goes on and on, if we only had cameras on our heads.

    I know this sounds like sarcasm and hyperbole. But I’m quite serious. I am obsessively law abiding. I will wear a camera on my head if it will get rid of child abuse. I really, really will. What I won’t do, is watch corrupt lawbreaking tyrants impose things on others they are not willing to live up to themselves.

    Cameras for all or for none. Anything else is disgusting, hypocritical tyranny. I vote for all. It’d be the end to a lot of wrong. We have the technology to impose a just society.

    If you won’t wear a camera on you head, what are you hiding?

  20. EOS
    Posted April 8, 2011 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    No Mark,
    It’s we don’t feel obligated to pay for the City’s expenses. The City’s population has decreased from 25,000 down to 19,400. That’s a nearly 23% decline in population. The city won’t be able to pay its existing bills in a couple years and they can’t significantly raise property tax rates. Additionally, property assessments continue to decline. And I don’t want to make blanket statements about the people in the city either, but the people on this site don’t seem to acknowledge their fiscal crisis. They want more spent on buses, more spent on a pool, and more spent on a bridge to link a park to a contaminated Water Street property – even though you soon won’t be able to afford your police. And you seem to think that calling Township residents racist and ridiculing their fiscal responsibility is going to result in our desire to give our tax dollars to the city. What does the city have to offer the township besides a plan to make the township pay for high priced city expenses?

  21. Edward
    Posted April 8, 2011 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    If I’m not mistaken, West Willow isn’t in the city, EOS.

    We’re talking about the rising crime rate in the Township, and your unwillingness to address it.

    This has nothing to do with the financial issues being faced by the city, which I’ll admit are daunting. This is about you needing to take responsibility for yourselves and address a growing problem. People are being shot at and killed on a regular basis in your neighborhoods.

  22. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted April 8, 2011 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    EOS, your ignorance is showing again.

    The city’s fiscal crisis is foremost on the minds of pretty much any citizen who cares about such things. I’m just guessing here, but I’d guess the percentage of folks who care about the greater community in the city runs a mite higher that in the township, but as there is not q “give-a-shit-meeter” on the census, I can’t back that up.

    We voted in a millage to pay for AATA service. We didn’t take from the general fund. As a city, we said “tax us more so we can have busing” because public transit is important to us as a community.

    The pool and the bridge projects are both applying for grants. This grant is the MDNR Trust Fund Grant, funded by gas and oil lease revenue and constitutionally guaranteed. The matching funds for the pool would be raised from private donations. The matching funds for the bridge are from Washtenaw County Parks & Rec (which, remember is funded by a millage, because county residents value their parks and trails) and from the YDDA. No city funds being used on these projects, and very little tax money that isn’t from that dedicated parks millage.

    Water Street has almost no contamination left. The areas that do exist are at low levels and below the soil to the point where the land is safe to use for recreation purposes. The city has also secured a grant to plant trees on most of this polluted land and begin the process of phytoremediation, or using plants to draw out pollutants instead of costly digging. The city also used a grant and volunteer efforts to build a beautiful river front trail over there, and if the pedestrian bridge is built, the county has pledged additional funds (again, from that dedicated parks millage) to pave those trails.

    We live in the city because we value the services we get. We’ve shown time and again that we’re willing to pay for it. Just a couple of weeks ago, there was a mugging two blocks from my house. Made me a little uncomfortable as I read about it in the morning. YPD caught the guy in the afternoon. I’m willing to pay for that.

    West Willow is a bad neighborhood, but it’s far from the only area in the township with a crime problem, but it is the poorest, and with that comes less education and less information. A higher likely-hood that there won’t be a computer or internet in the household, which means no access to the area’s “paper of record”. That’s where the cameras are going. Not on high traffic intersections, but at the entrance to a subdivision. What are you going to say when they put a camera at the entrance to your subdivision? How about Lake-in-the-woods or Schooner Cove? Those places aren’t always the safest, either.

    Subdivisions, incidentally, are another reason I choose to live in the city. Man-kinds greatest engineering blunder.

  23. gary
    Posted April 8, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    andrew jason clock wrote:

    it is the poorest, and with that comes less education and less information. A higher likely-hood that there won’t be a computer or internet in the household

    so the people who live in west willow are too poor too stupid to understand what is happening to them?

    you are an ignorant, racist cocksucker.

  24. Brainless
    Posted April 8, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, you racist cocksucker. How dare you express any generic sense of sympathy for people. Why doncha just burn “public transit is important to us as a community” on a cross, Hitler?!!

  25. Mr. X
    Posted April 8, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Gary, there’s definitely been some stupid stuff said on this site, and I’d say some of the comments even border on racism, but I didn’t read Andy’s comment that way. I think he was saying that in low income neighborhoods people may not have the same access to news. I don’t think that he was saying that the people in West Willow are stupid.

  26. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted April 8, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    Gary, what did I say that’s racist, exactly? I’m pretty sure I didn’t say anything about race. I said its a poor neighborhood, and poor neighborhoods tend to have less access to education (Willow Run Schools aren’t exactly magnet schools right now) and less access to computers and the internet. We have no local news paper, so no access to internet means you have a greatly reduced chance of finding out about local issues. I didn’t say anything about their ability to understand whats happening, only to find out about it. Would you like to argue the percentages of internet connectivity and education in relation to economic status?

    For the record, I have some close friends who happen to live in West Willow. They are a young, struggling family that can’t afford internet access right now. They’re very intelligent, but without access to this site or aa.com, they are not very likely to find out their neighborhood is is about to be put under surveillance, unless the township posts signs or sends notification letters.

    If you read a racial slur in comment about people in a low income bracket, who’s really racist?

  27. Igetit
    Posted April 18, 2011 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Maybe you should read all of the comments, before you make silly comments to EOS.

  28. Mr. Man
    Posted October 25, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    As we were talking about Township police coverage in another thread, I thought that I’d dig this up and ask folks how the video surveillance was going? Is it working?

  29. EOS
    Posted October 25, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    I read recently that they are buying more cameras to put in one of the township parks at the request of the youth baseball league that plays there. I suppose that means the township board feels it has been beneficial.

  30. Harland C
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    If we all had guns, and if every public space was under 24/7 surveillance, we’d only need a couple of cops. Ypsilanti would be a paradise.

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