Greater City Providence

Candid Camera

So the ProJo reports on this and frankly, I’m a little confused (emphasis mine):

The cameras are solar powered; when tripped, they snap a series of up to four photos and send out a loud, pre-recorded warning notifying intruders that their photo has been taken and they will be prosecuted.

So OK, I’m not sure how I feel about privacy implications of having cameras in the parks. I tend to lean towards the if you’re in public, you have no privacy argument, although this is creepy. So where am I going to trip these cameras and get a stern warning from them. One of the parks that is supposed to receive them, and certainly needs them is Waterplace. But everywhere graffiti appears in Waterplace (which is everywhere) are very public spaces. So am I going to be walking around randomly and get my photo taken and told I am going to be prosecuted? That would suck, I’d rather have graffiti than get hassled by a camera. You know, I want to find one and I want to trip it.

Check out this comment on the YouTube page:

How about working with the police department to find the vandals. Hell, when the building next to me got tagged I googled the tag and found the perp.


Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • I am not at all happy about this. First the red light cameras, now this. Is Providence turning into the UK? Are we going to have cops telling us we can’t take pictures of buildings? How about the cops do their damn job and actually walk the beat? If there’s a lot of crime in a certain area (graffiti is a crime), increase police presence.

    I’m really curious how this alarm thing works. Does it only sound off when it detects motion and prosecute you for walking? Also, they still have to go through the trouble of actually finding the people. People who want to tag a spot will find a way to hide their identity. It’s not easy to find a 5’8″ person (unknown gender) wearing a grey hoodie and black jeans. That can describe about 50% of the people in the city.

  • Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I read the Projo article earlier today and I believe it said that the cameras only activate if the subject is immobile for four seconds. This is to prevent the camera from capturing passersby. I feel like most tags, particularly those of the caliber currently adorning Waterplace Park, are done on the fly in less than four seconds. If not most, certainly a lot of them.

    The main point is that most people in Waterplace park after hours are not there to tag. In my opinion, removing the graffiti is not a success if it also means removing the law-abiding citizens. wtf

  • Sadly, the mayor’s video does not explain any of the machinations of the cameras and the ProJo article did not dig into any of the underlying issues, sigh.

    Had I known this was coming, I may have tried to make it to the press conference, but I wasn’t aware of it.

  • The Mayor’s office has a press release which says:

    How FlashCam works

    When motion is detected for an extended period of time in a targeted area, the six-mega pixel digital camera illuminates a bright flash and sends out a loud voice warning to would-be vandals. Each camera has a time-delay feature to ensure that the system is only triggered by those lingering in the area for an extended period of time, not by random passersby.

    FlashCam can store up to six hundred photos that are downloaded wirelessly to a laptop computer. The system will be monitored by Parks Department staff and its portability makes it easy to move the cameras to different locations as needed.

    I agree with Tom, tags are done on the fly, are taggers even going to trigger the camera. And what are “targeted areas?” Everyplace in Waterplace is covered in tags during the winter until the city finally gets around to removing them. I’m not liking that there will be “targeted areas” in parks that I can’t move in for an extended period.

  • This is totally the wrong way to go. So if someone is taking a peaceful stroll through Waterplace Park and happens to stall in one of the “targeted areas”, they’ll be accosted by the bright lights and the audible warning.

    People aren’t stupid. If only certain areas are targeted, the taggers will figure it out and tag where there are no cameras. If the cameras move, the tags will move.

  • Let’s see:
    – expensive, super-fancy equipment
    – technology and policing approach of unknown efficacy
    – potential to threaten/annoy non-targeted citizens

    My only question: is it boondoggle or boon-doggle? I can never get that straight…

    I realize I’m in the minority on graffiti, but I don’t see how making it impossible for the writers to be part of the solution helps anything.

    The problem with graffiti is that graffiti is a problem. Which it isn’t. Vandalism, now that’s a problem. As long as the problem is defined as “graffiti”, the city alienates their greatest potential ally – non-vandalistic writers who know everybody and everything that goes on in their segment of the art scene, er, criminal enterprise.

    And it reinforces the standard law enforcement message: Youth of Color – We Presume You to Be Criminal

    Meanwhile – and stop me where I go wrong Jim – the neighborhood around PC is known for its annual spring crop of snapped-off saplings courtesy of the PC student body. Vandalism of an equivalent or greater nature, IMO. Is there a task force for that? Will they spend thousands on camera to prosecute rich, white out-of-town youth?

    I keep hearing a subtext in so many conversations like this that the desired end for Providence is to be Barrington with much smaller lawns.

  • That’s not entirely accurate anymore. While I can’t speak for most of the neighborhood, there are many residents in there that are working to keep the trees safe and even plant more.

    Also, that small neighborhood probably houses almost as many JWU students now as it does PC students.

    I’m with you on the rest of what you said. What you’re suggesting is what Philly did to help increase neighborhood pride and ownership and stop the graffiti vandals.

  • A lot of the tags and vandalism in downtown parks seem to be RISD kids, fry, so I think you can drop the racial overtones. Not every bad decision in the state is the result of racism or persecution of the lower class.

    That said, I don’t think this is a great sytem. I would like to be able to sit on a park bench without being accosted by some security camera. And I agree with the point that good graffiti is not necessarily vandalism.

  • When they put it in Waterplace Park I plan to go down with my camera and photograph it as it photographs me. Just for fun.

    And by the way, they mount them 18′ in the air. The think they’re safe up there but I direct your attention to the I-95 sign on Francis street just before you hit downtown, it’s near the new CVS location. Note the graffiti on the back of it. If they can get to that, they can get to the poles. And remember, cameras only point in one direction.

  • I was walking down the river tonight…on the phone and FLASH….over where they had the trouble I guess…which I had no idea about…and this mechanical voice says “YOU ARE IN A RESTRICTED AREA AND YOUR PHOTOGRAPH HAS JUST BEEN TAKEN” What I’m gona get prosecutted or somting??….do I need a lawyer??..I was just goin to the mall to use the restroom….Jeese! THis is just too much. I felt as though I was in future cop or something..

  • This is just plain wrong. I had no idea about this until i was walking home from the train yesterday and I heard the automated voice telling me I was in a restricted area and a camera flash at me. I was simply walking across the park. I didn’t stop of hesitate, I was just walking at a normal pace and it took my photo and told me I would be prosecuted. This is ridiculous. They could have at least put up signs notifying anyone that if they enter the area they would be photographed. Or better yet, if they want to catch criminals, why not set up a police officer to patrol the area instead?

  • What time were you there? I’ve been meaning to go down there with my video camera and record these cameras in action, but haven’t got around to it yet.

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