NEWS

Police Surveillance Widens in D.C.

By Matthew Harwood

The District of Columbia announced it is giving the police access to a network of more than 5,000 closed-circuit television cameras that monitor activity all across the city, reports The Washington Times.

The Video Interoperability for Public Safety (VIPS) program will consolidate the more than 5,200 cameras operated by D.C. agencies — including D.C. Public Schools and the D.C. Housing Authority — into one network managed by the city's Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.

The program will allow agencies to share camera video feeds and provide the city with a network that is actively monitored and that Mr. Darnell said will operate "24 hours a day, 365 days a year."

Currently, CCTV cameras are the responsibility of individual city departments. The largest operator of cameras is the D.C. Public Schools system, which accounts for approximately 3,500 cameras. Police previously had access to 92 surveillance cameras in high-crime neighborhoods. That number will jump to 225 cameras under the initiative. All told, Mayor Adrien M. Fenty said the police department will have rights to "1,388 outside cameras and 3,874 cameras inside buildings throughout the city."

Civil liberty opponents worry the cameras could violate residents' civil liberties and argue surveillance cameras do not deter crime, just move it elsewhere. Melissa Ngo, senior counsel and director of the Identification and Surveillance Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told the Times "When you look at [police] statistics, the first thing you noticed was that they don't account for displacement, where you put a camera up on one street and the drug dealer goes to the next street."

According to the testimony of police Chief Cathy L. Lanier last week before the D.C. City Council, violent crime near cameras police monitor has fallen 19 percent within 250 feet of the devices and 4 percent within 1,000 feet.

City officials say the cameras won't be exclusively used to reduce crime, but will be part of the city's all hazards approach to crises.

Another benefit of the consolidation of the cameras into one network is cost savings. Monitoring the separate surveillance camera programs will cost the city an estimated $1.7 million this year. After consolidation, the city believes it will spend an estimated $885,000 next year on one integrated surveillance program.

The city hopes to receive some federal funding for the program. The first phase of consolidation is scheduled to begin May 1. The city plans to have the program fully integrated and situated in a central facility by the end of the year.

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