- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 30, 2006

The District’s emergency anti-crime law gives the police chief far more power in using surveillance cameras as crime-fighting tools than some of his counterparts in other cities across the country.

Under a 90-day law recently enacted, Metropolitan Police Department Chief Charles H. Ramsey has wide latitude — and final say — on placement of the 23 surveillance cameras that are costing the city $2.3 million. He is required only to notify a D.C. Council member and an advisory neighborhood commissioner of his intention to place a camera in their jurisdiction.

San Francisco has set up 33 “neighborhood safety cameras.” The devices can be deployed only upon a recommendation of the mayor’s director of the Office of Criminal Justice after a public hearing before the civilian police commission.

Chicago’s network of about 170 surveillance cameras is not under the control of the police chief, but the Office of Emergency Management and Communications. “Crime-detection specialists” in the office monitor the images and provide real-time information to first responders.

“There ought to be careful regulation on the way any camera is used,” said Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of the National Capital Area.

Mr. Spitzer said it is “a good idea” not to give police departments exclusive control of surveillance networks.

D.C. law states the police chief shall provide public notice before permanent installation, except when the cameras are deployed by court order, when notification will undermine the cameras’ crime-fighting use or when “exigent” circumstances exist.

For those exceptions, the chief must notify the public when the cameras have been removed.

San Francisco requires a sign within 25 feet of a camera’s location declaring that the area is under surveillance. The law has no provisions for deploying cameras in neighborhoods without public notice.

As in the District, San Francisco police are not allowed to monitor the cameras in real time. They can review footage only for crime investigations.

Officers can review footage only if their rank is inspector or higher and after they have submitted a written request that has been approved through the chain of command.

In Chicago, the cameras are easily identifiable and bear the police department logo.

“They’re not covert cameras,” said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications. “They’re in white boxes with big letters, and they have blue flashing lights that resemble Chicago police cars.”

New York City’s police department in April deployed the first of what is expected to be about 500 additional cameras in public places. The cameras, bearing the police department’s seal, monitor high-crime areas in real time.

New York already has about 1,000 cameras deployed in its Subway system and about 3,100 that monitor housing projects. Officials with the city’s Office of Corporation Counsel said no special legislation was required to deploy the cameras.

The cameras were installed in the housing projects in 2003 after police officials wrote policies stipulating, among other things, that recordings be destroyed after a specific period and that supervisors conduct random audits of at least one half-hour of footage each shift to ensure the cameras are used in a “noninvasive manner.”

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