- The Washington Times - Monday, July 29, 2019

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Monday urged residents, businesses and organizations to the participate in the city’s Private Security Camera System Incentive Program in an effort to prevent crime and help police capture criminals.

The rebate program has funded the purchase and installation of more than 15,000 surveillance cameras on private properties since the program was launched in May 2016.

Miss Bowser admitted that it’s not known how many crimes the cameras have deterred but said they still help the Metropolitan Police Department make the District more secure.

“We all know that reducing crime is not just MPD’s job, but is the community’s job, every agency of our government and everybody who cares about creating a safer, stronger Washington,” the mayor said Monday during a press event outside Jackie Lee’s bar in Northwest, where a drive-by shooting happened on New Year’s Eve.

According to Michelle Garcia, director of the Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants, program participants can choose to purchase a camera from any retailer, install it on the exterior of their property, register the cameras with the police department and submit an application to receive the rebate.

For residents who cannot afford the upfront costs, a voucher program can provide assistance. The program offers a maximum rebate of $500 for residences and $750 for other eligible locations.

Vivian Cam, owner of Wonder Nails, said she has cameras inside her salon but would like more surveillance outside her business — although she fears retaliation from would-be criminals.

“It freaked me out a little after the incident a couple months ago, when the guy got shot there [in front Jackie Lee’s] and they used tapes to investigate,” Ms. Cam said. “There is just a lot going on around here. I am afraid people will come after me if I am the one to show.”

She said she is more inclined to buy the cameras since the Jackie Lee’s shooting, adding that the rebate program would help her.

Darrion Gates, who works next door at Bridgeway Counseling Center in Northeast, expressed excitement about caution about the program.

“We don’t have this yet, but I am going to talk to my CEO to see if we can get this system. It really would help,” Mr. Gates said. “I would be cautious too because the government says one thing, and then they do another. I am cautious. Be respectful, be cautious and be open.”

Ms. Garcia said the registering cameras with the Metropolitan Police does not give the department access to their systems and footage. The footage belongs to the cameras’ owners, who have the right to release it or not.

Kara Frederick, a technology researcher at the Center for a New American Security, said the program offers a unique balance between security and individual privacy, which needs to be respected.

“The use of this footage should not be mandated to be provided to MPD, there should not be a compulsion mechanism where the government compels the gov to provide that data,” Ms. Frederick said in an email. “Digital surveillance is not inherently bad, but it’s the way its used and how its used that it can be.”

The surveillance, according to Miss Bowser, is most beneficial in helping law enforcement catch perpetrators.

“Video footage can be critical in helping to bring perpetrators to justice. We see it time and time again, when we have video footage of a crime we can get that information out to the community faster and the community can help us solve a crime,” the mayor said.

According to the Private Security Camera Incentive Program Report, in the month of July there was “one arrest made in a homicide case in which video footage was extracted from a security camera owned by a program participant.”

For Cleashay China Sutton, owner of the Studio Elan beauty salon, rapid growth in city population and crime prompted her to enroll in the program. She said the process for registration and receiving the rebate was easy.

“I wanted extra security,” she said. “I highly recommend it because it helps to increase the visibility to show that we have safety components in place.”

Miss Bowser plans to continue community outreach to inform residents, businesses, nonprofits and religious groups that they have options for increasing surveillance outside their properties.

Ms. Frederick, the technology researcher, noted the program provides for tech literacy, which is key to maintaining transparency.

“Enhancing public safety and security while providing for individual privacy is the best of both worlds,” she said.

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