Thursday, August 25, 2005

Surveillance cameras, which have become an abundant source of revenue for the District, will soon be extended to crack down on illegal dumping in the city.

Edward D. Reiskin, deputy mayor for public safety and justice, said the revenue cameras are scheduled to be operational as soon as next month.

“There are a lot of cities across the country that are already doing this,” Mr. Reiskin said. “And we have done it here before, but never on a systematic basis.”

The camera will enable the city to collect fines up to $25,000, and the D.C. government threatens to confiscate cars of dumpers.

William O. Howland Jr., director of the Department of Public Works, said the fines could be as costly as $25,000 if the citation is issued by the Metropolitan Police Department. Citations issued by Department of Public Works employees could be as costly as $8,000.

“In both instances, the vehicle can be confiscated,” said Mr. Howland, who would not say where the four mobile surveillance cameras will be located.

Four officers from his department and another four from the police department will monitor the cameras, which will cost $6,000 each.

The cameras would be the latest application of a growing surveillance system already in place, functional — and generating millions in revenue — for the District.

The District has eight stationary photo-radar cameras and 12 mobile photo-radar vehicles. More than $79 million in revenue has been collected from those cameras since August 2001.

Similar cameras are being used in Houston; Fort Worth, Texas; Kansas City, Mo.; and Santa Fe, N.M., and in Pennsylvania.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of Maryland, a Republican, in May vetoed a House and Senate bill that would have allowed Baltimore to install similar cameras.

In southern Louisiana, police have used the cameras to catch illegal hunters, children shooting off fireworks, and teenagers and adults performing illegal sex acts, reports the Slidell Sentry-News. Mr. Howland said the District’s four new cameras would spy only on illegal dumpers.

Johnny Barnes, executive director for the National Capital Area branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the expanding surveillance system raises “constitutional concerns.”

“Cameras that are merely used in a general way trouble us and may well be constitutionally impermissible,” Mr. Barnes said.

In addition to its traffic-enforcement cameras, the District has 14 surveillance cameras, mounted primarily on buildings near the Mall, for use during special events, emergencies and heightened terrorism alerts.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams, a Democrat, last month said the District should employ a “broader use of cameras” to improve security. His remarks followed a series of bombings along London’s transit system that killed at least 56 persons and injured 700 on July 7.

Authorities in London, which has a network of thousands of surveillance cameras, were able to identify from videotapes the bombers and the would-be bombers of a failed, repeat attempt on July 21.

The D.C. Council must approve expansion of the camera program.

Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, deemed the mayor’s idea “worth looking at.”

“My goal is to have legislation ready to be introduced this fall,” the deputy mayor said. He said the legislation would be patterned after surveillance networks in Chicago, New York and London. “Ideally, we would like to have something by the end of this month.”

More than 1,000 cameras and 3,000 sensors are scheduled to be installed at platforms in New York. In May, Baltimore police began using 43 cameras to monitor and record around-the-clock everything that happens in a 40-square-block area on the West Side, site of light-rail and Amtrak lines, government buildings and cultural attractions.

Chicago has the largest police-camera network in the country, with more than a thousand in use.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide