The Advantage of Human Surveillance

The city of Columbia, South Carolina has struggled with the persistence of criminal activity for many years. The range of crimes that play a consistent role on everyday society include armed robberies, drug deals, and domestic violence. The frequency of these crimes is quite alarming considering that besides being the state capital, Columbia is a city that is inhabited by thousands of young and naïve college students attending the university. When parents consider college choices for their children, the topic of safety is a big concern. For the majority of students, college is the first time that independence is fully achieved, and students have to determine their own choices in regards to making safe choices. This being said, the lack of physical security personnel brings up an important observation when attempting to consider why crime is so prevalent. Would the addition of personnel contribute to the possible elimination of crime?   

On Monday, November 24th, instead of meeting on our classroom, we were instructed to meet at the Gressette Building, which is located on the state house grounds. From there, we walked as a group towards Gervais Street, and crossed at the intersection of Main and Gervais. As soon as we arrived at the first building, which happens to be where ABC Columbia News is filmed, we stopped and were instructed to observe the surrounding area. We encountered cameras on top of the building. As we continued down Main Street, we noticed camera boxes on the side of buildings, as well as cameras in front of ATM’s. The abundance of cameras is due a new program in which Columbia is spending $1.4 million on its camera surveillance program that overlaps two fiscal years. Council approved $700,000 for the fiscal year that ended June 30, and an additional $675,000 for the fiscal year that began July 1” (Leblanc, Columbia to add 80 more camera locations).After researching about camera locations, and more specifically the number of cameras in particular areas, I discovered that Main Street has exactly twenty camera locations, in comparison to Five Points, which has twenty-two camera locations. Other areas include Rosewood Drive, which has four locations, and the Devine Street business area, which only has one location. Because of the large number of cameras in the areas of Main Street and Five Points versus Rosewood and Devine, it is clear that these areas post much more of a threat of crime than other areas in Columbia.

Throughout our walk along Main Street, we observed a variety of banks, hotels, shops, and restaurants. Most recent to Columbia has been the addition of The Hub, which is a student living high-rise located on Main Street between Hampton and Washington. The Hub has added an additional 800+ residents to this particular area of downtown, meaning that throughout a given day, a majority of these students are walking back and forth between The Hub and USC’s campus. “The new residents who will fill the complex’s 848 beds in 260 suites will more than double the number of people who live on Main Street and the public excitement is palpable” (Burris, Unique student living brings life to key ‘hub’ of Columbia revival). Ten years ago, the existence of a student living area along Main Street would have been a very foreign idea. However, the downtown area of Main Street has recently evolved and become a popular destination for diners and shoppers. The location of The Hub is walking distance from campus, which appeals to those without the accessibility to cars, and the modern amenities including a rooftop pool makes it a popular choice for students.

There is not a doubt that cameras along Main Street are in abundance. The multitude of cameras creates an immediate sense of security in the case that if someone was to consider committing a crime, they would potentially re-consider because of the placement of cameras. As we walked as a group, there was never a time that I felt threatened or unsafe because I knew that a criminal is much less likely to approach a group versus a single individual. When we passed several of the banks, including Certus and First Citizens Banks, one observation that stuck out to me was the absence of security guards at each of the banks. Even though there were places to scan a card or ID badge, security guards in uniform were not present. In reflecting on a multitude of times that I have gone to several banks, there has almost always been a security guard standing right outside of the entrance, or in the parking lot, monitoring those who are walking in and out. This is also true for the Bank of America in West Columbia, as well as the Bank of America in Five Points. I find it very ironic that as there are more than seven banks along Main Street, yet there was not one guard that was visibly present. I then began to think; Are security guards a thing of the past? Have they been replaced with technology? I have observed several scenarios in which technology such as the iPad has replaced human service, but security seems to be on another spectrum. Police officers and Firemen are still very much necessary, so why are security guards any different? Police officers carry weapons, as well as create an added sense of security for fellow citizens. In comparison to video surveillance, the camera seems to represent the concept of catching a criminal after the crime has happened due to facial recognition, versus preventing the crime from occurring in the first place.

Certus Bank Entry (arrow pointed to Access Card pad)- Courtesy Carl Burnitz

Crime within Main Street and the downtown area is occurring each and every day. On Sunday, November 23rd, the day before we went on our walk, a woman walked down the intersection between Lady and Pickens, when she was forced into an alley and a man attempted to sexually assault her. Luckily, people around were able to hear loud screams and the perpetrator then ran. This took place at around 1:45pm, right in the middle of the day. Although some would argue that crime normally occurs at night, this one incident is an example of how crime occurs when people least expect it. Two days before the attempted sexual assault, on November 21st, police arrested more than twenty people who were connected to a drug ring. “Midlands area law enforcement moved against nearly two dozen residents accused of selling illegal drugs after a nearly 3 month investigation… The undercover investigation was launched in August in response to citizen complaints about the prevalence of drug dealing in the Dorrah Randall neighborhood and North Main Street areas” (Lowe, 3 month investigation in Midlands leads to 23 arrested on drug charges). These examples of two very different crimes occurred within a day of each other. Could the attempted rape be prevented if security guards were more commonly scattered throughout the city?

After researching the subject of bank security and the existence of security guards, I found an article explaining the reason in which security guards in banks are becoming less common. These examples include the cost of employing a guard, online banking, and the emphasis on surveillance cameras. “Robberies usually happen at small branches that can't afford security. They'd need two guards to cover when one takes a break. Also, electronic banking has cut down on how much money banks have on hand so a robber's not going to get away with that much, perhaps less than the weekly cost of a guard” (Reger, Why don’t banks have security guards anymore).It is interesting to consider that the two Bank of America’s in Columbia that do have security are smaller branches, versus the larger ones on Main Street that do not. In April of this year, a man robbed a First Citizens Bank in the early afternoon. “Police say the incident happened at the First Citizens Bank at 2621 N. Main St. at about 11:30 a.m. when a man walked into the bank and passed a note to the teller demanding money. The note said he had a weapon” (Old, Police release photos from N. Main St. bank robbery). Although this incident occurred earlier in the year, the timing of the robbery took place right in the middle of the day. In Grusin’s Premediation, he describes that premediation is not about getting the future right, but rather helping to prevent future negative scenarious. “Unlike prediction, premediation is not about getting the future right. In fact it is precisely the proliferation of competing and often contradictory scenarios that enables premediation to prevent the experience of a traumatic future by generating and maintaining a low level of anxiety as a kind of prophylactic” (46) This example of premediation can be directly connected to the added benefit of a security guard. Although it is not the case that robbing a bank is guaranteed, additional human surveillance has the potential to prevent a bad outcome. If a person was to decide between a bank with human surveillance or without, it is clear that the bank without would give the criminal a better chance of success. When a person drives down the street and encounters a police car, chances are that that person is going to ensure that they are going the right speed. The same idea would go in the example of a potential bank robbery, or even robbery of a citizen. If a security guard is clearly present in specific areas of downtown, the chances of a criminal committing a crime is much more rare than in the scenario in which no security guard is present. It is part of our nature as humans to react a certain way when we are confronted with those who, from our interpretation, have more legal power than us. It is only natural that we check our speedometer or use the cross walk only when the hand is telling you to go.

The city of Columbia appears to be making strides for a safer environment for students and citizens of the downtown area. Most recently, the city has introduced an expansion to the Yellow Shirt Safety Program. Although this program has been around for more than ten years, with the increase of students in the area, the concern for safety continues to grow. “Yellow shirts will patrol the streets on foot and in vehicles at varying hours throughout the day every day, including until 2 or 3 a.m. on weekend nights.” City Councilman Cameron Runyon expanded on the importance of this program. “They have been invaluable in providing our citizens and businesses with an added layer of safety and security, not because they’re out there investigating crimes or arresting the bad guys. But they’re there as a presence, and they help prevent crime from happening in the first place” (Ellis, Columbia’s ‘yellow shirt’ safety program expands to Vista next week).In addition to Yellow Shirt members, The Hubhas also addressed the issues of safety and agreed to provide a variety of precautions for its residents. “Safety issues have been raised with increasing car and pedestrian traffic. And safety of the residents living in the complex also was an issue during the project’s planning stages. The company addressed those concerns by using electronic card access, security cameras in common areas of the building and upgraded lighting in the parking garage. They also have said they plan to staff the building with resident assistants 24 hours a day” (Burris, Unique student living brings life to key ‘hub’ of Columbia revival). 

Example of Yellow Shirt helpers 2-

In Vemer Andrzejewski’s “Efficiency,” we are introduced to the concept of a lookout. “Postal lookouts provide a convenient starting point into examining surveillance in the Victorian-era workplace… Some programs attempted to establish minimum standards for post offices and postal employees in order to keep the service consistent throughout the country, whereas others focused on increasing efficiency through mechanization” (47). This idea of a lookout is one example in which security guards can be placed. Though their placement is not for the purpose of implementing efficiency, a lookout is a perfect location for a security guard to be located, where one can examine all that goes on. This implementation of a lookout brings an immediate sense of watch and surveillance as well, so when people enter the bank, they are immediately aware that every move they make is being constantly watched.

 As I consider other ways in which human surveillance has the potential to be used, I contemplated a different idea in which the different places of consumption do not necessarily need human surveillance, but rather convince those that enter the there is in fact surveillance. This idea goes back to the concept of the Panopticon. As Foucault explains the effect of the Panopticon, “… to induce in the inmate a start of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary… in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the barrier” (201). Although the purpose of the Panopticon was to have a place where criminals were housed, this idea can also serve as a platform. What if a bank, store, etc, used the existence of a two-way-mirror to create the sense a security guard was actually behind that mirror. In turn, a guard does not always have to physically be behind that mirror, but those who encounter assume that it is fully functioning. This would serve as a sort of guard tower minus the guard. Although a company would need to invest in the installation of a “guard room,” a guard is not necessary. A sort of example of this is the police car that sits in front of the state house. Those whose who are familiar with the car are aware that there is actually never a cop in the car, but rather a dummy. However, those that are unfamiliar would assume the existence of an officer inside of the car. The Panopticon was tricky because the criminals were never sure of the existence of the guard due to the strategic placement. However, this meant that the criminals always had follow good behavior in the case that a guard was present.

It is important for the City of Columbia to acknowledge the current crime problem and work to eliminate the crime while it is still manageable. There are many appealing aspects to life in Columbia, but if criminal activity continues to make a negative impact on citizens, it has the potential to greatly effect the city’s growing population. Since 2005, Columbia’s population has grown by close to 10,000 people, and as of 2013, the current population is 133,358. With the addition of human surveillance, the safety of Columbia should be greatly enhanced. 



Burris, Roddie. "COLUMBIA, SC: Unique Student Living Brings Life to Key ‘hub’ of Columbia Revival." The State. N.p., 8 Aug. 2014. Web. 29 Nov. 2014.

Ellis, Sarah. "Columbia's 'yellow Shirt" Safety Program Extends to Vista next Week." The State. N.p., 10 Sept. 2014. Web. 29 Nov. 2014.

Foucault, Michel. “Panopticism.” Discpline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. 1977. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage Books, 1979. 200-228.

Grusin, Richard. “Premediation” and “The Anticipation of Security.” Premediation: Affect and Mediality after 9/11. London, UK: Palgrave/MacMillan, 2010. 38-63 and 122-142.

Leblanc, Clif. "Cheers arise over more security cameras for Columbia." The State. N.p., 6 Aug. 2014. Web. 29 Nov. 2014.

Leblanc, Clif. "Columbia to Add 80 More Camera Locations." The State.    N.p., 4 Aug. 2014. Web. 29 Nov. 2014.

Lowe, Rachael M. "Latest Local Breaking News by The State Newspaper in Columbia, SC." The State. N.p., 21 Nov. 2014. Web. 29 Nov. 2014.

Old, Jason. "Police Release Photos from N. Main St. Bank Robbery." WISTV. N.p., 29 Apr. 2014. Web. 29 Nov. 2014.

"Police: Attempted Sex Assault Near Downtown Columbia." WLTX 19. N.p., 23 Nov. 2014. Web. 29 Nov. 2014.

Reger, John. "GQ: Why Don't Banks Have Security Guards Anymore?" N.p., 17 July 2013. Web. 29 Nov. 2014

Vemer Andrzejewski, Anna. “Efficiency.” Building Power: Architecture and          Surveillance in Victorian America. Knoxville, TN: The University of Tennessee       Press, 2008. 43-90.


What's interesting about the HUB is that it precisely positions students downtown in a shopping-dining-business district. In the past, businesses on Main Street have been less welcoming of students. For example, the wall that encloses the historic Horseshoe was built to keep the student in. How might you account for this shift in logic? Does Foucault (or another theorist) help to explain such a shift?

The shift comes from changes in economics, demographics, social norms, and many other shifts that occur over time. I did a cursory search and believe the wall of the horseshoe was built in the 1840's. The history that has happened since those walls were built is vast.

The most recent history of Main Street is that it became a run down area that was popular for the homeless to gather. It was all but impossible to run a successful business there because so few potential customers would venture to that area. Very recently the city has decided to make an effort to revitalize that area. Back in the 19th century, society may have have desired to keep students away from the Main Street area, they now are very welcome. Anyone with money to spend is currently going to be welcomed with open arms.

In reference to Foucoult, the aspect of surveillance and how it relates to the current state of Main Street, I think he would take note of the multiple surveillance cameras and how the knowledge of being observed will encourage people to behave appropriately. In addition to that, the architecture is, for the most part open. There aren't any dark alleys to speak of, and the interiors of all the businesses are surprisingly visible from the outside. For example, we were looking in the windows and observing bankers in their offices, presumably doing financial work. This openness and visibility also encourages people to behave appropriately. It is not a prison situation, but his thoughts about panopticism and the light of observation keeping people in line certainly apply.

This shift in logic is explained by the natural progression of time. When the Horseshoe was built in 1805, this served as the original campus, as Rutledge College was the one and only building. Through time, the campus has expanded and now has more than 30,000 students. With the accessibility to cars, students no longer need to concern themselves with a close proximity to campus, as The Hub is a bit farther than some of the residence halls. 


As I read other articles, I developed a stronger understanding about the history of Main Street, and more specifically, it's most recent revitalization into a more consumer friendly area. With the addition of restaurants, shops, hotels, and businesses, it is only natural for people to then consider this area a place to live. Many of the restaurants have very student friendly prices (ie Zoes and Atlanta Bread Company), which is also very appealing. 


In regards to another theorist, this could be related back to Crary's concept of 24/7. Crary emphasizes this concept of economic modernization which began in the mid 19th century and was influenced by Marx. Crary states "... since no moment, place, or situation, now exists in which one can not shop, consume, or exploit networked resources, there is a relentless incursion of the non-time of 24/7 into every aspect of social or personal life" (30). As time goes on, and this Main Street area has evolved, with the existence of several different institutions of consumption, a student living community seems predictable. 

Although there is the potential for people to be watching the technology nearby, I think that it is does not give off the same perception as to if there was a presence of a two-way mirror. Many people have their doubts when it comes to cameras, so the existence of a guard seems much more beneficial and efficient. 

I think it is definitely necessary for the state to consider safety as a high priority due to the amount of money that the university brings to Columbia. If Columbia were to become even more dangerous and crime more common, I think that parents would have second thoughts onto whether they would be ok sending their kids to attend the university. 

You begin your article by saying that you find it alarming the amount of crime that happens in Columbia, however, I would think the opposite; because Columbia is our capital, it would likely be more densely populated, likely leading to an increase in crime. I would also think that the college campus would contribute to this too; naive, drunken college students make ideal targets for potential criminals (making Five Points the most dangerous of places in the city), also college students themselves contributing to petty crime (drugs, shoplifting, etc.) This doesn't pertain to something as serious as bank robberies and sexual assault, and I'm not a specialist in criminal behavior, but do you think that it would be natural and predictable to see more crime in a densely populated city with a college campus?

I definitely agree that college students are huge targets for smaller crimes. However, my point is not that it is surprising, but that it is worrying that these sorts of crimes are so common. Whenever I consider going to Five Points, there is always the thought in the back of my mind that is truly isn't safe. I make sure to never take all of my credit cards, and only carry the smallest amount of cash necessary. Because of what happened with Martha Childress (shooting in Five Points), and the armed robbery of one of my friends, I cannot help but worry about my safety and the safety of my friends. I agree that crime in Columbia is naturally going to happen, but my argument is that something needs to be done to protect the safety of more than 30,000 students. 

Do you think that cameras really help at all in scenarios like the bank robbery? It sounds like your argument is against the idea of cameras actually being able to deter crime, at least in relation to what a human could do. An actual guard could potentially stop it immediately while a camera has a delayed effect. 

You mentioned that many smaller bank branches do not have security guards because it is too expensive/ not cost effective. In the case of a robbery, it would have been worth it in the long run, but since you cannot control that, I understand the point being made. 

Do you think that increased police presence in these areas would be more useful? Most police officers have a specific route they travel throughout their shift, so maybe lingering longer in these places could be a useful preventative measure and a useful way to spend tax dollars, rather than buying those weird scooters they ride around on. 

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