- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The city’s reflex urge to install surveillance cameras in residential neighborhoods is understandable after the spike in violent crime this month.

Privacy concerns inevitably succumb to the self-preservation instincts of the masses. However intrusive a surveillance camera is, the intrusiveness is secondary to the loss of life. The Advisory Neighborhood Commission and civic association in Georgetown are in the process of considering surveillance cameras after the killing of a British citizen in the 3100 block of Q Street Northwest earlier this month.

Fear has a way of being a bipartisan issue, as long as the fear hits close to home. Those on the left and right can agree that it is no fun to live behind steel bars on the ground-floor windows of your home, no matter how fashionable the neighborhood is said to be.

Yet the left and right cannot agree on the use of electronic surveillance against those who mean us harm in the war on terror. The right thinks it is an effective tool to uncover potential plots. At least those in the Bush administration think so. The left, predictably enough, thinks it is an invasion of our civil liberties.

This is politics as usual, stoked in part as it is by the Bush-hating wing of the far left. It does not serve the citizenry well, especially for those who live in the urban centers of America. Those population clusters are high on the hit list of Osama bin Laden’s head-removing nut jobs.

Yet the war on terror somehow remains distant, despite the celluloid reminders of September 11 in our midst. It is mostly “over there,” in the Middle East, far removed from our daily goings-on.

Whatever impact the war on terror has on our workaday lives each day, it is limited to mostly reiterating the talking points being dispensed by both parties on the yakfest television shows, and talk is cheap.

However blue it is, the city long ago fell in love with the notion of cameras that monitor the populace because of a greater good. That good is the saving of lives, real or imagined. You cannot walk in downtown or travel along many of the city’s major arteries without being under the eye of a camera.

This creeping deployment of cameras is far more unsettling than the notion of Big Brother listening to your telephone conversation with an al Qaeda buddy overseas. The monitoring of an overseas call involving al Qaeda is preferable to a camera trained on the latest protest group downtown.

The playing of politics with an issue so threatening is a misguided luxury aided by seeming distance. Yet what poses a greater danger to the majority of people in this city: the recent surge in violent crime or a follow-up to the September 11 attack?

This is not to minimize the violent crime in our midst. It is real, it is tragic and it is a drain on both our quality of life and resources. It also is the hot-button topic in a city besieged with campaign literature.

By a 12-1 vote last week, the D.C. Council approved the anti-crime measures of Mayor Anthony A. Williams. The measures, questionable though they may be, are motivated by a citizenry that does not want to return to the bad old days of “murder capital, USA.” And it is a citizenry becoming ever more willing to embrace the all-seeing camera as a crime-fighting mechanism, regardless of the invasion on privacy.

It seems no infringement is too great if fear is lurking near your stoop, even if the fear is overstated in certain stretches of the city.

The city endured 15 killings in the first 15 days of July, which prompted Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey to declare a 30-day crime emergency and the mayor to put together a crime bill.

They hope a camera and a curfew will keep the young thugs at bay.

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