Two steps toward security, many questions to answer

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 8, 2007

Without intending to do so, the Franklin law enforcement community, through its desire to make the city more secure, has raised a much-needed debate about basic civil rights.

On Thursday, members of the police force met at the municipal airport with representatives of ShotSpotter, Inc., products to discuss and witness a display of a new software program that can track the point where gun shots have been fired. It’s done through a series of acoustic measurements than triangulate the origin point.

That information can be used by dispatchers to quickly assess the call and get police personnel to the scene. It eliminates the need to sift through several telephone calls, some of which might provide conflicting information.

While it does not eliminate the need to examine physical evidence at the scene, the software provides detectives with more information after the fact to trace the location where shots had been fired.

If information in the sales brochure is accurate, the sensors used to capture the sounds can differentiate between gun shots and firecrackers.

Given the number of recent gun battles in portions of the city limits, such a proposal makes sense.

Another proposal is to install security cameras at various parts of the city to provide surveillance in the name of safety.

Both ideas have similar goals: To improve policing of the city and to make life safer for all of us.

Both, too, face at least one identical obstacle: They each are expensive, perhaps beyond the reach of the city’s budget.

But federal and state or private

grants could cover the start-up cost of either choice. And that would be welcomed news.

However, there is a bigger question that looms.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the government has chipped away at personal privacy protections. With the blessing of the courts, legislators and quite a few members of the public who, apparently, believe that forfeiting a few civil rights is well worth the benefit of personal protection, our world is changing.

Whether that change is for the better is still undecided.

It is, however, an important debate, the struggle between public safety and privacy.

We are subjected to more invasive searches at airports than ever before. The ferry ride from Scotland to Jamestown, once a benign scenic shortcut through congested roads by traversing the James River, is now a gauntlet through intense security checks.

Do we want our streets videotaped 24 hours a day? Who would have access to those recordings and the information contained in what would be city property?

There are other methods of providing increased safety not only under discussion but also being implemented, including neighbor watch groups, better communication between police and its citizens and training sessions for ens being conducted by police personnel.

There’s always room to add more tools.

For now, though, the debate in Franklin is between installing security cameras to record movements of many of its citizens, or installing a system by which the location of gunshots can be traced.

Removing the question of budgetary limitations, the technology tracing gun shots appears to offer more assurances that privacy is being maintained while security is enhanced.