- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2011

The District’s top security chiefs are planning to expand their use of electronic surveillance by issuing tickets for more traffic offenses, integrating thousands of private and public cameras into a single feed and adding portable cameras that can be positioned to peek into any neighborhood.

The D.C. plans align with the regional government proposal to better integrate surveillance and other operations in the nation’s capital with that of suburban Maryland and Virginia.

The District has long deployed traffic cameras to catch speeders and red-light runners, has set up neighborhood surveillance cameras, and uses sound detectors with Shot-Spotter technology to home in on gunfire.

But the new portable cameras — despite their planned use for traffic offenses such “blocking the box” and failing to come to a complete stop — are far more flexible and can be put in a wider variety of neighborhoods.

Some cities use them to capture a wide variety of minor and major offenses — public urination and graffiti scrawling, jaywalking and car accidents, purse snatchings and car thefts, and the behavior of political demonstrators.

“They will be implemented within the next year,” Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier told WTOP-AM on Thursday during her monthly “Ask the Chief” program. “It is coming.”

Chief Lanier called the expansion a “big deal.”

She said that while decisions on exactly where to place the traffic cameras will require more study and have yet to be made, the major downtown intersections are likeliest to see them first.

She said the newly targeted moving violations will be treated the same way as current ones — a fine but no points on the driving record.

“The real big deal is we’re trying to procure technology that allows us some flexibility,” Chief Lanier said.

The chief’s remarks Thursday followed an announcement last month from the D.C. Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA) that it wants to add its oversight surveillance feeds from banks and other financial institutions, gas stations and mom-and-pop shops to the information from the 4,500 cameras already positioned at schools and other public sites.

“In forthcoming years, HSEMA will begin to integrate other [Closed Circuit TV] systems such as the District of Columbia Housing Authority, Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority, CSX Corporation, and local private businesses,” HSEMA’s “Performance Plan” for 2001 states.

Such a move would add the District to a list of cities already receiving private videos, including Baltimore and New York.

Unlike the plan by Chief Lanier, who formerly oversaw the Metropolitan Police Department’s homeland security offices, there is no timeline to integrate private businesses into the city’s surveillance system, which is monitored by the HSEMA.

The plans align with the 2010 Homeland Security Strategic Plan by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Developed by the region’s public and private sectors, the plan has as its primary objective “a safe and secure” National Capital Region, and its No. 1 goal is to “ensure interoperable communications capabilities” to transmit and receive voice, data and video on a “day-to-day basis.”

D.C. regulations prohibit city agencies from zeroing in on protesters’ literature and prevents them from storing footage longer than 10 days unless a crime is committed or the actions of law enforcement officers are called into question.

There are no such stipulations if that footage is shared with Maryland and Virginia agencies.

Motorists and civil libertarians have long complained that D.C. traffic cameras are pure revenue generators.

Chief Lanier said using the cameras to deter speeding and red-light running remain her department’s top priorities “because they save lives more than anything else.”

However, she said Thursday that one offense she especially wants to crack down on is “blocking the box,” or failing to go completely though an intersection, usually because of heavy traffic, and thus, when the light turns red, blocking the green-lighted traffic on the intersecting street.

“But I’ll tell you, I’m really interested in the blocked box,” she said, noting the awkward practical impact of ticketing someone for that offense. “When an officer has to pull someone over for blocking the box, guess what we do. We block traffic.”

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