- The Washington Times - Friday, December 13, 2002

The D.C. Council yesterday debated a bill to put District neighborhoods under video surveillance under a pilot program to test the effectiveness of cameras on street crime.
"It is almost out of necessity that I support them because we don't have meaningful police presence in our neighborhoods," said council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat.
Adrian Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, and other council members said that they feared such a pilot program would lead to an unstoppable proliferation of the technology in the District.
"I am struggling to find support for these cameras, given the constitutional issues being raised," Mr. Fenty said.
He added that not counting the cameras installed downtown by the Metropolitan Police Department, federal agencies have cameras "possibly hundreds" that Congress and the council are not aware of.
The Judiciary Committee hearing was sponsored by Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, who introduced the legislation last month.
Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said the best police work comes from good investigative work and increased presence of officers, "not sitting in a chair staring at monitors."
The measure being considered would allow video surveillance for specified law-enforcement, security and traffic management. Tapes would have to be destroyed in 10 days, and a court order would be necessary to allow the cameras to zoom in on faces.
The bill would also prohibit the use of facial-recognition technology to match faces on videotape with photos of wanted people. If passed, the bill could also open the door for camera surveillance in neighborhoods that want it.
At least one neighborhood Hillcrest in Southeast has expressed interest in having the cameras watch over its streets.
"We propose that Hillcrest be part of that pilot project in preventing, deterring, or investigating crime," the Rev. Franklin Senger, president of the Hillcrest Community Civic Association, wrote in a letter to Mrs. Patterson.
Mr. Graham and Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat, said that residents of their wards are "so fed up" with inadequate police protection that they, too, are looking at cameras as a viable option to deter crime.
The Washington Times reported last month that the council passed legislation to regulate the police department's use of surveillance cameras to monitor monuments, federal buildings and downtown public venues, but not without some heated debate and indecision.
The council members originally rejected the legislation 7-6, then passed it when Sandy Allen, Ward 8 Democrat, reversed her position. Several members then considered introducing legislation to eliminate the cameras altogether.
Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey told The Times earlier this week that the level of opposition was unexpected.
"I was surprised by their reaction last month," he said. "I understand the issues surrounding the cameras, but I don't think you need to throw out the baby with the bath water."
Chief Ramsey also said the cameras are handy because he cannot put an officer at every potential terrorist target in the District.
Privacy and security experts from across the country also are debating the issue with council members.
"The one proven effect these cameras have on crime is displacement, and if that is the only advantage then all you get is the illusion of security," said Barry Steinhardt, the American Civil Liberties Union's director for technology and liberty programs.
Grant Frederick, a forensic video expert, said most police departments are unqualified to thoroughly study the effect of such cameras on any society and lack skills to administer the technology effectively.
"Although I do believe state-monitored cameras infringe on privacy, closed-circuit cameras do bring some benefits," he said.
Mr. Frederick said studies show that cameras encourage witnesses to come forward out of fear that the camera caught them observing the crime.
Chief Ramsey said he hopes that's true because one of the main reasons detectives are closing fewer homicide cases is a lack of witness cooperation.
Mr. Frederick said, however, that adding cameras would require more officers, and staffing is a persistent problem with the D.C. police.
"The system fails without a steady stream of officers available to get to a crime scene picked up on camera," he said, "because the criminals will become aware that the surveillance doesn't necessarily mean they will be apprehended."

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