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"I always feel like" — sang Michael Jackson in a cameo role on a 1984 hit song by the Motown scion Rockwell — "somebody's watching me."

Our apologies for planting the ear worm. Our purpose in doing so is to note that nearly 40 years later, the question of being watched is more than a feeling. There are surveillance cameras on buildings, cameras in ceilings, cameras on street poles, cameras in doorbells, cameras scattered around private property — at least one spying eye for every three Americans, based on some estimates.

"Or am I just paranoid?" Rockwell wondered in '84. Well, paranoia was the theme of his song. Today a better question is to what degree all this security coverage can do good, and whether it might also do harm.

One recent development in the Twin Cities area falls under the category of "can't hurt, might help." It's an inexpensive initiative called SafeCam, essentially a database of home security cameras and the contact info of those who opt in. If a crime occurs, investigators can quickly identify potentially useful locations, ask owners to check their footage and — optionally — to share it with police. A handful of suburbs have established SafeCam registries, and more should consider it. It can both broaden the scope of evidence and speed its acquisition.

Richfield resident Peter Milton, quoted in a Jan. 3 Star Tribune news article, had a matter-of-fact rationale for participating. "You have some type of safety system for a reason," he said. "Why not make it available for another resource and tool if need be?"

Here's another matter of fact: Crime reports have risen disconcertingly in the metro area in the last few years — including but not limited to the brazen carjackings that have made the most news. Attempts to reverse these trends must be multifaceted.

The Star Tribune Editorial Board has previously highlighted efforts to strengthen the prosecution of violent juvenile offenders and to resurrect a program from the 1990s, MN HEALS, that promotes partnerships among an array of stakeholders. The board also has argued on many occasions for sufficient police staffing levels, a need that is not negated by high-profile examples of reprehensible behavior by individual officers nor by legitimate concerns about professionalism in the ranks.

Smaller endeavors like SafeCam can help, too. They get community members involved directly, using the relatively inexpensive security devices many already are buying, which though focused on immediate surroundings can also capture activity on streets and sidewalks. It isn't clear how much they can contribute to solving crimes — or, for that matter, how much of a deterrent such devices are to begin with — but given the limited expense to both homeowners and governments, it wouldn't take a high rate of success to make the effort worthwhile.

The bigger costs of security camera proliferation come in abstract form: What becomes of a society that documents so much because it perceives it can trust so little? Will law enforcement actions stemming from such surveillance be applied to social groups evenhandedly? What is the risk that agencies eager to put all this camera coverage to use will try to expand collection beyond sensible boundaries?

Though SafeCam is voluntary, it's just one way agencies around the nation are using footage from home security devices, and it's not all happening as transparently as it should. Citizens should understand their rights and obligations. A starting point is the Consumer Reports article "What to Do If the Police Ask for Your Video Doorbell Recordings," accessible at

Nonetheless, we suspect that most people would want to help if they were a direct witness to a crime. SafeCam just extends the concept.