- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2002

D.C. police say they have shut off a dozen cameras that were monitoring federal buildings, the National Mall and areas in the city deemed vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
Metropolitan Police Department officials yesterday said the heightened state of alert issued by the FBI last month has passed though they acknowledge the cameras can be reactivated any time the local police determine the city is in a state of crisis.
"We only turned them on after the FBI issued a state of emergency to monitor areas sensitive to terrorist attacks," said Chief Charles H. Ramsey. "We kept the cameras running until the Olympics were over and then stopped monitoring."
Privacy advocates and civil liberties groups have been critical in recent weeks of the Metropolitan Police Department's plan to link hundreds of cameras in schools, Metro stations and other locations around the city to the Synchronized Operations Command Center.
D.C. Council Member David Catania, speaking at a public oversight hearing of the Judiciary Committee yesterday, said his concern is extensive use of the cameras in high crime areas would lead to the city relying on cameras instead of actual police officers to keep the city safe.
"We might have the very real dilemma of having activity on tape and our officers doing nothing about it," said Mr. Catania, at-large Republican.
D.C. police, eager to answer concerns about potential abuses of the cameras by officers, invited media representatives again yesterday to tour the SOCC.
The SOCC houses three surveillance monitoring and communications stations: the Joint Operations Command Center, the Command Information Center and the Intelligence Information Center.
The Command Information Center is the only station operating around the clock. The other two are only used as needed, presumably during a heightened state of alert or in emergency situations.
D.C. police officials presented several examples of how their new communications technology can be used to aid officers in solving crimes by transferring up-to-the-minute details about scene and suspects to officers on the street.
Fourth District Cmdr. Cathy Lanier showed how she could conduct her morning rundown of patrols with her command staff from the Joint Operations Command Center.
Using Web-based technology, Cmdr. Lanier was able to show her staff, sitting in a 4th District meeting room on Georgia Avenue, where all of the robberies in two public service areas, 410 and 412, occurred from 4:30 p.m. Sunday to 12:30 a.m. yesterday morning.
Neil Trugman, who oversees operations for the SOCC, gave one example where a bank robbery occurred in the 4th District at 2:30 p.m. during the shift change.
"In real time, we were able to give the evening shift, during their role call, a description of the car and the license plate number from witness accounts," Mr. Trugman said. "With the old system, the evening shift officers would not have been aware of what to look for, and the information would not have been available until the next day."
Police officials emphasized the city's use of surveillance cameras are incident-driven monitored when there is a specific reason.
Chief Ramsey said people shouldn't be concerned about cameras because the debate on how they are to be used is still evolving.
"We had the American Civil Liberties Union in last week on a tour, and they raised some important issues that we plan to address," Chief Ramsey said.
The Washington Times reported last week that the D.C. police agreed with the ACLU that restrictions and regulations on the use of the cameras will be necessary.
Officials from the ACLU said they want tougher legislative restrictions that can be legally enforced.


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