Jane Jacobs once commented that “eyes on the street” was an effective deterrent against crime. And it is. But it’s how it works that’s important. Lots of eyes tend to keep those marginal criminals honest. Committing a crime without getting caught is too difficult, so they’ll go elsewhere.
The advent of video surveillance and now “crowd-sourced” policing or evidence gathering (as happened in Vancouver during the riots) is another layer of “eyes on the street.” Now even if there are only a few witnesses, they might be photographing or video taping you.
Professional or determined rioters will not be deterred by this, of course. They show up at crowded events in gas masks, obscuring their identity.
Unlike the editorial in the Harvard Business Review, I am not alarmed by citizen evidence gathering. It’s how people who don’t feel strong enough to confront a criminal directly can fight back and it could well serve as a big preventative tool for the future.