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Ocean City to install security cameras

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Ocean City, Maryland, will install eight security cameras this summer to monitor traffic and criminal activity.

"This is the beginning of video surveillance in Ocean City," said Richard Malone, assistant to Public Works Director George Savastano.

The city's Public Works Department plans to install six cameras at the West Ocean City park and ride parking lot, just west of the U.S. Route 50 bridge, one on the Boardwalk near the pier and one on North Division Street near Philadelphia Avenue. The work should be done by mid-July.

"This system is exclusively for buses and tracking the activities at the parking lot," Mr. Malone said.

But the surveillance system will be shared with the Ocean City Police Department to gather evidence on vandalism and drug crimes in public areas, he said.

Two cameras -- one on a light pole on North Division Street facing the Route 50 bridge and the other on the Boardwalk at the police station facing Philadelphia Avenue -- can pan, tilt and zoom in on people milling around, he added.

Privacy advocates say the constant scrutiny by the government leads to abusive public policy and infringement on people's privacy.

"There has not been enough conclusive evidence to show that the cameras deter crime," said Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a San Diego-based nonprofit advocacy group.

"If you look at England -- the highest camera-per-capita area in the world -- crime tends to shift to areas without cameras. Plus there is a greater chance for operators to use cameras for voyeuristic purposes," she said.

Last year, Virginia Beach began using cameras with technology that matches faces in crowds with criminal photos in a police database.

The planned Ocean City cameras will lack the identification software used by Virginia Beach and Tampa, Fla., but will be remote-controlled and linked to the city government's network, allowing police and other agencies access.

Johnny Barnes, executive director of Washington-area affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, raised questions about how Ocean City would use the information caught on camera.

"They could start fining jaywalkers if the budget gets tight. These cameras open up a number of revenue opportunities for the government," he said.

The D.C. government uses 39 traffic cameras throughout the District to curb speeding and drum up revenue by mailing citations to drivers.

But Mr. Malone said the Public Works Department is concerned only about safety and bus availability at the park and ride lot.

"We are trying to get more people to use the parking lot instead of driving in, and to do that, our buses need to be reliable and the lot has to be secure."

The Boardwalk already sports Web cameras on Caroline Street and on the Inlet, run by the city, that take pictures every 20 seconds, he said.

The Ocean City Police Department plans to expand and fund a similar system in the Inlet parking lot next to the Boardwalk, said Barry Neeb, community services coordinator for the agency.

"We think this system will help us track crowded areas like the Inlet parking lot, which has a fair amount of vandalism and drug activity," he said.

The police will study the system's success in the next year before adding high-tech photo-imaging capabilities or extra cameras on the Boardwalk, Mr. Neeb added.

"We want to see how the hardware holds up before we start looking at adding software that matches photos to faces," he said.

The Public Works Department will open the project for bidding Tuesday.

The department is using a $97,000 grant from the Maryland Smart Growth Initiative it received in 2001 to fund the project.

ADT Security, Avaya, Black Oak Technology Solutions Inc., Nortel Networks, Planet Technology Corp., Verizon Communications and VNX Solutions have expressed interest, Mr. Malone said.

The winning contractor will have to use radio technology to link the camera system to the Public Works headquarters on the other side of the Sinepuxent Bay.

The initial surveillance system will establish the foundation for future expansions by the police, Mr. Malone said.

"In the future, agencies will only need extra cameras and some fiber-optic cable to have a functioning system."

Donna De Marco contributed to this report.

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