Megan Rowling Gets It Right

The Surveillance Camera Players (SCP) have often complained about some of the press coverage they have received because it has been either too short to adequately address the subject, too light-hearted to address the seriousness of the subject or too focused upon the reporter instead of his/her story. The SCP have complained about bad coverage so bitterly and so many times that one might think the group wasn't happy with any of the coverage it has received! But the SCP are very happy indeed with the way they are presented in an article written by Megan Rowling and published in the July 2001 issue of Mao Magazine.

A Brit, Megan became aware of the SCP shortly before the group left New York for its first tour of England in June 2001. Thanks to good advance-planning, she was able to hook up with the SCP while it was on tour, and to see the SCP perform on two separate occasions in London. Megan also took the time to interview the group's members at some length in a quiet, comfortable place. She asked the right questions and must have taken good notes, because -- unlike most other print reporters with whom the SCP has had contact -- she didn't need to contact the SCP again and again and ask a million follow-up questions or versions of questions already asked and answered. She heard what she needed to hear the first time; she heard it correctly; and she got it right twice: first, when she wrote it down, and then when she wrote it up.

Perhaps because it's written by (one of) the best print-reporter(s) ever to publish a story about the SCP, or by a very good reporter who has the only editor willing to "take the risk" of publishing such a story, Megan's article is the very first to focus on the military as well as the civilian issues raised by the SCP and their performances. It's the first article ever written (or broadcast) about the group that mentions the fact that the U.S. military regularly visits and, no doubt, keeps tabs on the SCP's web site. Though the group have been publicizing this fact and mentioning it to reporters ever since June 2000, Megan is the very first to actually mention and discuss it. With the sole exception of Achtung, Kamera! Megan's article is also the only one to mention the relevance of the once super-secret, satellite-based military spy system known as "Echelon" to surveillance cameras operated by local police departments. Because of all this, the SCP comes off quite well -- i.e., as a group that sees and is seen by the larger picture.

But Megan's article isn't extraordinary simply because it tells so much of the SCP's story. It's also extraordinary because it gets right to the heart of the issue, i.e., the police's use of surveillance cameras for the purposes of law enforcement. In so many words: Do the things actually work? How are they really being used? Are they worth the huge amounts of money being spent on them? After doing her "homework," as one says, Megan is able to provide the answers, and it is very gratifying indeed that they jibe with what the SCP has been saying. Sometimes the cameras, despite their cost and technical sophistication, don't work properly and thus fail to record the crime. Though there have been several highly publicized instances in which surveillance footage has been instrumental in catching a suspect in a high-profile case, there is no statistical evidence that shows that the cameras "fight," deter or reduce crime. Indeed, what statistical evidence there is indicates that the people who operate the cameras use their prejudices, biases and personal predilections to determine who they stare at and who they ignore. The usefulness of surveillance cameras as a "crime reduction" tool is in fact so questionable, Megan reports, that even the camera-crazed British government -- which has spent over 150 million pounds on CCTV equipment in the last few years -- has recently been forced to commission an unprecedented two-year study of its effectiveness.

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