- The Washington Times - Monday, March 10, 2003

RICHMOND Richmond will soon join a handful of cities, including the District and Baltimore, that use cameras to prevent crime.
On Jan. 27, the City Council gave Police Chief Andre De Parker the go-ahead to spend $375,000 on 20 to 30 video-surveillance cameras for high-crime areas. Mr. Parker and supporters hail the cameras as the latest crime deterrent.
Opponents, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, argue the cameras are an invasion of privacy.
Mr. Parker contends, however, that the cameras and the Constitution are compatible.
"We monitor spaces where there's no constitutional right to privacy," he said in an interview published yesterday in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "We reserve the right to decide how we deploy them."
The cameras will be movable and concealed. Sometimes, an officer will monitor them, sometimes not. They will be installed in high-crime areas and places where residents say they are needed.
"We will use them as we feel they are tactically feasible," Mr. Parker said. "The addition of cameras allows us to do more, to follow up and be places we can't be."
Tom Yeager investigated crime in Baltimore's roughest neighborhoods for almost 30 years as part of the city's police department.
Now, he is watching it happen from a renovated brick office building that houses the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore.
He can turn on the television and monitor 16 surveillance cameras run by the partnership, a nonprofit organization dedicated to cleaning up the city. In all, four sets of 16 cameras provide 24-hour watch over 106 blocks of downtown Baltimore. Two more networks are in the works.
The cameras are on all day, every day.
"You can't put a cop on every block, but you can put a camera there," Mr. Yeager said.
There, the technology is used primarily to prevent car break-ins on city streets. Mr. Parker's plan is to use cameras in downtown Richmond to deter drug-related and violent crime.
In Baltimore, each camera is marked clearly as a video-surveillance area.
"The idea is, if someone commits a crime, they're going to run past a camera somewhere," Mr. Yeager said. "If you're foolish enough to commit a crime underneath a camera, we'll be more than happy to have you arrested."
City police can request a specific videotape from the Downtown Partnership when they believe a crime may have been caught on tape. After a week, if no police agency has claimed the tape, the cameras record over it.
Baltimore police have their own covert cameras throughout the city, said John Pignataro, chief of information technology for the Baltimore Police Department, but those are used mainly for narcotics investigations.
In Washington, 14 globe-shaped cameras peek out from the tops of tall buildings across the city. They offer 360-degree views.
One person familiar with them said, "You can read someone's belt buckle from a mile away. Their range is tremendous."
The ACLU's D.C. office is pushing city leaders to abandon the cameras.
"Tell me one terrorist that's been ferreted out by cameras," Executive Director Johnny Barnes said.
"Tell me one crook that's been caught, one crime that's been prevented. Studies conclude these cameras have little or no effect on crime."
Two years ago, the International Association of Chiefs of Police surveyed police departments across the country about their use of cameras. It found that more than 700 agencies used the technology.
The study also found that 96 percent of agencies using cameras had no system in place to analyze whether the cameras were effective in reducing crime.
Of the eight agencies that measured the cameras' effectiveness, three said they had a "great" effect on crime, four said their effect was moderate and one said the cameras had a marginal effect on crime.
In Richmond, ACLU Executive Director Kent Willis said he plans to lobby City Council and Mr. Parker to change their minds about the cameras.
"It's pretty clear that it is not considered unconstitutional to place cameras in public places," he said.
"Our argument is almost entirely a public-policy argument. It may not be a legal invasion of privacy, but it is part and parcel of the use of new technology to significantly erode the privacy of individuals of the United States."

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