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This is 2006, not '1984'

DAN KENITZ / Milwaukee Journal Sentinal | October 14 2006

Ald. Bob Bauman proposed recently that Milwaukee bars and taverns be required to install surveillance cameras to keep an eye on potentially unruly customers on their entire premises.

It seems like a logically Orwellian thing to do, to keep bar-related tomfoolery under Milwaukee's thumb. But that doesn't mean we should be comfortable with city eyes on parking, sidewalks, stairways and every other cubic inch of Friday night.

The good proles of Milwaukee won't take too kindly to that for a couple of reasons.

One, camera systems cost bars something important: money - sometimes tens of thousands of dollars. Business owners, as a general rule, enjoy money. And they're the ones we want hanging around. A complicated camera system is just another obstacle to setting up a business that serves alcohol in Milwaukee.

Two, these cameras won't deter crime. Take, for example, a college-aged man hopped up on a mixture of booze and testosterone, getting angry and ready to turn into the Incredible Hulk.

What are you going to tell him? That he should earnestly consider his actions now that he's on "Candid Camera"?

"You're right. I am drunk and acting inappropriately. I haven't been exhibiting socially acceptable behavior at all. Thank goodness for Bob Bauman!" Are you kidding? Nothing stops the Hulk!

If the inherent public embarrassment wasn't enough to deter him, a camera definitely isn't going to be. The only behavior that these cameras would encourage is a quick flex of the biceps up to Big Brother a second before the fight starts.

In an Oct. 4 Journal Sentinel article, Prentice McKinney, who has cameras at his bar Savoy's, said warning disorderly customers that they're being recorded doesn't stop them. He said, "I've never known a camera to prevent crime."

Would we want them even if they did?

If the possibility of being caught, even with a camera, was enough to deter crime in the first place, the world would already be safer. Ald. Party Pooper is asking business owners to pay the price of an anti-crime magic pill, with only the promise of a placebo. You can't fight idiots with idiocy.

We go to bars, restaurants, taverns and clubs because they're the places with the most fun. We know there's some danger, of course. No one ever heard of drunken brawls outside the local video store.

Putting cameras everywhere is sort of like telling kids at recess, "The principal's watching through his office window, but, hey, have fun anyway." Even if they behave, it kind of defeats the purpose of recess, and all they'll think about is how to get their kicks somewhere else.


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