- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 9, 2002

Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey yesterday said the District must and will expand its use of surveillance cameras, much like London, which uses 150,000 cameras to monitor its population.

"I have visited London and had a chance to take a look at their system, and people would be surprised," Chief Ramsey said. "There is a great deal of safety and security that people feel while they're out and about, and it has had a positive impact on crime. All we're trying to reach here in the District is that same sense of safety and security."

However, violent-crime rates across the British capital have increased steadily and in dramatic fashion in recent years. The latest crime figures to come out of London indicate that street crimes have ballooned by 40.3 percent during the past year, according to a report in the New York Times.

Experts say most of the increase comes from theft of mobile telephones in street muggings, but other kinds of crime are also on the rise. Reported burglaries increased 3.6 percent from 2000 to 2001, and crimes involving automobiles, including carjackings, went up 3.8 percent, while crime in general in London rose 6.7 percent.

But that hasn't stopped top police officials in the city from maintaining that observation through closed-circuit television, which was introduced in Britain in the early 1990s, is vital to the improvement of public safety.

They say that since the cameras were introduced in Liverpool they have led to the lowest rate of burglaries in 26 years. Similarly, in the London borough of Newham one of the poorest corners of Europe, the introduction of closed-circuit television has brought about a 21 percent decrease in assaults, and vehicle-related crime and burglaries are down 39 percent.

Speaking on WTOP-AM radio's "Ask The Chief" program, Chief Ramsey agreed with Mayor Anthony A. Williams' statements on Thursday that in the post-September 11 world, surveillance is just another part of our lives and the District needs to follow the lead of cities like London to safeguard against terrorist attacks.

The London Daily Mail reported that during the course of a week, an average city dweller can expect to be filmed about 500 times as the cameras watch people everywhere from offices to railway stations to shops and nightclubs.

"I know there's a lot of panic around this, with people thinking that we're going to be watching every single move they make but it's not true, it's just not practical," said Chief Ramsey.

Throughout Britain, there are 2.5 million closed-circuit TV cameras, the largest network per capita in the Western world. Analysts say the cameras won popularity at their induction nearly a decade ago as a means of protection against the spread of Irish Republican Army terrorist activities that have plagued major cities in Britain for the last 30 years.

Critics of closed-circuit television say its scope is so wide and its legal controls so limited that it is open to serious abuse by those in charge of the system.

Mr. Williams said he backs the Metropolitan Police Department's plan to link hundreds of cameras in the city to a central command center, a plan that civil libertarians have denounced as government spying on law-abiding residents.


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