- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The first phase of D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s plan to give police access to thousands of cameras across the city is expected to be complete today, amid renewed support from members of the D.C. Council for a hearing on the initiative.

“Some of these issues really do benefit from a deliberate process,” council Chairman Vincent C. Gray said. “I think we ought to have the benefit of a council hearing.”

The Fenty administration’s Video Interoperability for Public Safety program will consolidate more than 5,200 cameras operated by D.C. agencies into one network managed by the city’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.

Mr. Fenty, a Democrat, announced the initiative April 8 and said implementation of the program would begin “immediately.”

Emergency management officials did not respond yesterday to questions regarding the specific details of the project’s first phase, but they have said it is expected to be complete by today.

According to an April 8 press release from the Fenty administration, officials were expected to consolidate camera monitoring functions for the D.C. Department of Transportation, the Protective Services Division of the Office of Property Management, D.C. Public Schools and the D.C. Housing Authority.

The four agencies possess the majority of cameras in the initiative, with roughly 5,000 total. The public school system is in charge of roughly 3,700 of the devices, and the remaining devices in other agencies are expected to be brought into the network by year’s end.

Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, has said he hopes to hold a public discussion on the camera consolidation in May.

Mr. Mendelson, chairman of the council’s Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, has adamantly opposed Mr. Fenty’s camera plan and emphasized yesterday that officials should wait until comprehensive regulations can be developed to govern who can monitor the devices and how before the program is implemented.

The first phase of the program also is supposed to include the development of standards for using the camera technology, according the release.

Mr. Gray, a Democrat, said the camera consolidation — which will allow officials to monitor feeds from the devices around the clock — comes with a “Big Brother concern” that must be weighed against the public safety needs in the community.

He also said Mr. Fenty’s administration has an “enthusiasm” to get things done, but that problems can arise from a hasty approach. He referenced the Metropolitan Police Department’s Safe Homes initiative — a program that was initially portrayed as allowing police officers to search residents’ homes for guns but was later scaled back amid privacy concerns.

“This is one of those issues where you want to know the public sentiment on this,” Mr. Gray said. “If [Mr. Mendelson] thinks it’s appropriate to have a hearing, I certainly support that.”

Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, said he would support a council hearing on the camera issue as well but credited city officials for moving swiftly on the issue.

He also said he plans to add 12 exterior cameras outside D.C. Metro stations through his committee oversight of the transit agency.

The devices would cost roughly $16,000 each, he said.

“I don’t think they can move fast enough on these crime issues,” Mr. Graham said.

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