- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The D.C. Council approved legislation Tuesday that restricts the use of 5,200 closed-circuit cameras that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty wants to consolidate under one program.

Council members said the cameras in Mr. Fenty’s Video Interoperability for Public Safety program must be monitored under the same law that governs the use of the anti-crime cameras monitored by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).

One provision under the law restricts the real-time monitoring of cameras, a key element of Mr. Fenty’s program.

Council members have been critical of the plan and of Mr. Fenty, a Democrat, since he announced it in April without consulting them or seeking public input. They say the move was yet another example of the mayor failing to talk with them before making a major decision.

“They’re not going to want to use the guidelines for MPD…,” said Jason Shedlock, a spokesman for council member Phil Mendelson. “Now they have to come to the council and submit a plan.”

The legislation is a provision added to the fiscal 2009 budget support act by Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat.

He and other council members said they are concerned about the Fenty administration rushing into the program without a well-defined plan.

“I didn’t hear anything about public safety,” Mr. Mendelson said. “I think they’re avoiding being specific.”

The Fenty program has the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency bringing into one network and monitoring the cameras - from eight city agencies that have different monitoring standards.

The cameras will be monitored under the police-camera rules until the council approves a new plan from the mayor.

Mr. Mendelson and council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, on Monday sharply criticized City Administrator Dan Tangherlini for a lack of guidelines, saying the administration did not appear to be sure how the program would work.

“I think we shouldn’t get ready until we know what we’re getting ready for,” Mrs. Cheh said.

Mr. Tangherlini said the administration shared the concerns of the council about privacy and rules for using the cameras and is trying to address them.

“We’re trying to get our hands around the existing system,” he said. “We don’t have any regulations now, so we’re trying to bring all the agencies together.”

ACLU National Capital Area legislative counsel Steve Block said cameras used to monitor traffic or schools are acceptable, but giving law enforcement agencies easier access to them will violate residents’ privacy rights.

“Regulations don’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” he said. “Networking cameras as a general proposition makes no sense.”

The council eliminated funding in May from the budget to cover the cost of transferring city employees to the camera’s central monitoring location.

Mr. Tangherlini said the program would largely be funded by federal grants for which the city is applying.

Surveillance-camera networks have been used throughout the country and the world as a crime-prevention tool.

Chicago, widely seen as the U.S. city that has made the most aggressive use of surveillance technology, has installed more than 2,000 cameras and began linking the devices into a single network in 2004.

The camera network in London, referred to as “the Ring of Steel,” is thought to be the most extensive in the world, employing about 500,000 cameras.

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