- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 16, 2002

Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey yesterday defended his department's plans to expand the use of surveillance cameras in the District on WTOP's "Ask the Chief" call-in program.
Chief Ramsey said the plan to link hundreds of surveillance cameras perched atop federal buildings and businesses and install dozens more throughout the city is in the best interests of residents. He said the police will not be operating the surveillance cameras round the clock and that the system won't be used to spy on individuals.
"We don't have a 24-7 monitoring operation going on. We're looking at areas of the city, not people," Chief Ramsey said. "We're trying to enhance the security of all of D.C."
The main goal, he said, is to monitor possible terrorist targets and crime in highly populated public areas of the city.
The department's plan has been questioned by some congressional leaders and criticized by civil libertarians since the scope of the project was detailed this week in reports by the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times and CNN.
Critics say the cameras, which the department plans to use to monitor activities at city schools, on the subway, at power plants and near water supplies, would create an Orwellian police state, with "Big Brother" monitoring everything all the time.
Chief Ramsey said he understood concerns about the possible misuse of the system by officers with access to the Joint Operations Command Center, where the video feeds are linked to monitors.
"There needs to be a careful look around to make sure they're not abused," he said. "We need to set policy. And we need to know why things are being used."
The chief also said he understood concerns about pervasive video surveillance but added that people nationwide are caught on camera every day at automated teller machines and malls. He invited any critics of the surveillance to come to the command center and observe the operation. The D.C. police command center is located inside D.C. police headquarters at Judiciary Square.
The Washington Times reported yesterday that Rep. Constance A. Morella, Maryland Republican, plans to hold a hearing on the citywide surveillance because of concerns over encroachment on civil liberties.
Mrs. Morella, who chairs the House Government Reform subcommittee on the District of Columbia, said she will ask a number of questions at the hearing, including the following: "Under what authority are these cameras being set up? What are their exact purposes? Who views the pictures? And what are they looking for?"
During the broadcast yesterday, Chief Ramsey also touched on the District's photo-radar and red-light camera enforcement. The Times reported this week that Mayor Anthony A. Williams and several D.C. Council members are concerned about the contract the city signed with Affiliated Computer Services Inc., the Dallas-based company running the cameras.
Council members have questioned whether the company is raking in a windfall with its administration of the program.
January was a profitable month for the District's photo-radar program, with the city collecting $2,188,290. Since the program started in August, the city has taken in $7,515,212 and issued 197,786 citations.
ACS takes $29 of every paid photo-radar ticket and $32 out of every paid red-light ticket. Area motorists have paid 103,457 tickets so far. The city has taken in $4,514,959 in fines while ACS has received $3,000,253.
Chief Ramsey yesterday said the payment structure for the company is about to change. He said a new monthly, flat-fee contract will be ready for Mr. Williams to sign soon.
"The flat-fee contract is being written up in the Corporation Counsel now," he said.
Once the contract is signed by the mayor and ACS, he added, it should put to rest any controversy about the program.
Officials in the D.C. Office of the Corporation Counsel said they are putting the final touches on the contract and are advising the police department on how it should be structured. The office will not give any detailed information about the contract until it is signed by Mr. Williams.

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