- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 25, 2002

The Metropolitan Police Department won't be using surveillance cameras in neighborhoods, but its plan to place them at monuments, federal buildings and major events and protests in the city is about to become law.
The D.C. Council's Committee on the Judiciary, headed by Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, was supposed to vote yesterday to approve the D.C. police's camera-surveillance regulations to be introduced by Mrs. Patterson for a vote by the full council on Oct. 1.
But Mrs. Patterson postponed the vote after members of the National Capital Area chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union contacted her with concerns that the vote would violate D.C. procedural laws.
"To mark them up now is illegal, because it violates the 30-day, public-comment period," said ACLU lawyer Steven Block. "They are jumping the gun by moving on the regulations so quickly."
Mrs. Patterson said no laws would have been broken, but decided to postpone the vote anyway.
Mr. Block said the final version of the police regulations were not published in the D.C. Register until Sept. 6. When the ACLU learned Monday of the proposed approval vote, Mr. Block said he "immediately sent a letter to the committee advising them of the time conflict."
But the public-comment period was covered in a June 13 joint committee hearing that Mrs. Patterson held with council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican and chairman of the Committee on Public Works and the Environment.
Several groups testified to their opposition to the cameras and also recommended changes to be made to the regulations.
The Washington Times reported in February that D.C. police had plans to link hundreds of cameras to their Joint Operations Command Center as a security measure to monitor activities at city schools, on the subway, at power plants and near water supplies.
The command center is the heart of the $7 million Synchronized Operations Command Complex, which is activated during special events or times of crisis.
Metropolitan police first used a surveillance camera linked to police headquarters on New Year's Eve in 1999 amid concerns about terrorist attacks.
The surveillance expanded to 12 cameras during the International Monetary Fund and World Bank protests in 1999 and during President Bush's inauguration in January 2001.
D.C. police are using the cameras to monitor the IMF/World Bank protests this week. Mrs. Patterson said her motivation for speeding up the process was to put the police department under regulations.
"Right now, there are no regulations in place, and there are less restrictions for the police," Mrs. Patterson said.
But she said she was happy to oblige the ACLU because she has worked hard with it and other local civil liberties groups in developing the legislative restrictions.
Several groups have opposed the expansion of camera surveillance by D.C. police since it was first reported in February.
When a draft copy of the police regulations were released in April, the ACLU said they didn't go far enough.
The ACLU opposes the cameras altogether, saying their use would infringe on constitutional rights to privacy and lead to abuse. It also argued that the cameras are ineffective.
Camera technology rarely leads to arrests, said Johnny Barnes, executive director of the ACLU's National Capital Region chapter.
"What we have seen in England and Australia are reports of video voyeurism by police officers following women around with the cameras," he said.
Mrs. Patterson said in her committee report that the final version of the regulations is much improved, with no initiative to put cameras in neighborhoods and the addition of specific law enforcement functions, safeguards against abuse and specific penalties for abuse.
The regulations also have more explicit protection of First Amendment freedoms, and the department will be required to do regular audits and reports on the system.


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