Wednesday, April 2, 2008

D.C. officials have put cameras on light poles, police cars and government buildings. Now they’re preparing to put them on street sweepers in the latest example of increasing surveillance of city residents.

The D.C. Council yesterday unanimously passed legislation introduced at the request of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty that will let officials equip the District’s tractor-sized street-sweeping machines with cameras that can scan license plates and photograph vehicles illegally parked in a street-sweeping zone.

The bill will face a final vote by the council next month and would expand the District’s automated enforcement network that already monitors red-light running and speeding. The city also operates 74 surveillance cameras affixed to light poles and buildings in neighborhoods as part of an effort to deter crime.

But critics have charged that the latest devices serve as a moneymaker for the city and an intrusion on privacy instead of a public safety tool, as officials contend.

“The greater concern for us is the expansion of the program,” said John B. Townsend II, a spokesman for AAA-Mid Atlantic. “I think it’s hard to say to people that revenue is not one of their ulterior motives.”

Scheduled street-cleaning service takes place weekly in every city ward except for Ward 3, and it is temporarily suspended during winter. Signs prohibit parking along curbs during a two-hour window while the service occurs, and violators caught by the cameras will receive a $30 citation in the mail.

Linda Grant, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Public Works (DPW), which operates the street-sweeping program, said the legislation will provide the agency with an added tool to clean streets without obstruction and rid neighborhoods of trash and toxins.

DPW officials say parking control officers are able to enforce street-sweeping regulations on only about 20 percent of the routes.

A 2007 agency study showed that street sweepers removed pollutants like oil and grease at a rate of 10 pounds per mile swept, while chemicals like nitrogen and phosphorus were brushed up at a rate of three pounds per mile swept.

“If we can encourage people to change their behavior so that we can sweep, then that’s our point,” Miss Grant said. “It’s not about ticket writing; it’s about being able to clean the streets.”

The cameras will cost roughly $40,000 each and will be placed on two street sweepers initially. Warning notices will be issued during the first 45 days of the program.

Miss Grant said her agency issued 114,000 tickets on streets with residential sweeping in fiscal 2006, and that the agency averages about 450 tickets per day for street-sweeping violations.

Officials say that if 20 percent of motorists violate regulations against parking in blocks marked for street sweeping in a given month, the city will collect about $213,000 in additional monthly revenue.

Mr. Townsend said he fears the program will place tourists and motorists who live outside the District at a disadvantage because they don’t know about the automated enforcement.

But council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Public Works and the Environment, also stressed that increasing revenue isn’t the program’s end goal.

“What we’re going to find is with these increased violations, we’re going to find a source of revenue generation, which is not our purpose at all,” Mr. Graham said. “Our purpose here is to get clean streets.”

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