[mgj-discuss] DC Cops to use cameras to spy on demonstrators
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Wed Apr 10 12:46:44 EDT 2002
Police Propose Rules for Video Surveillance In the District
By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 10, 2002; Page B01
District police yesterday released a draft of proposed internal regulations
on video surveillance, but a key lawmaker said that the guidelines are too
vague and that legislation is needed to govern law enforcement use of the
In a four-page document circulated to D.C. Council members, police officials
propose limits for a computerized video monitoring system that is emerging
as one of the nation's most extensive.
The closed-circuit television network is capable of linking up eventually to
1,000 government cameras that monitor streets, subway stations, schools and
federal facilities in the nation's capital. D.C. police have cameras of
their own at 12 sites and can access those of other government agencies with
The system, first activated during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, also was
used during a terrorist alert issued by the federal government in February.
The cameras will be used again during antiwar demonstrations scheduled for
April 20 in downtown Washington, police officials said.
The regulations proposed by police would allow them to activate the system
for traffic control, "critical incidents," heightened states of alert or
special events that pose a potential threat to public safety.
The guidelines say police may record over any material they videotape after
72 hours, though they do not require that step. They also bar camera
operators from monitoring individuals arbitrarily or based on race, gender,
ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability or other classifications protected
And the regulations prohibit camera operators from focusing on handbills or
fliers being carried, to prevent violations of the First Amendment.
But D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), who chairs the panel's
Judiciary Committee, said clearer rules are needed on activation of the
system, retention of video records and sanctions for violators.
"We are in fact going to write legislation. . . . Regulations are only the
first step," Patterson said. "They probably aren't specific enough in a few
A spokesman for Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.), chairman of the House
Government Reform subcommittee on the District, who also had expressed
misgivings about the reach of the camera network, agreed that the proposed
police regulations are too spare.
For instance, the police plan is silent about who may access the video
records, whom the chief can designate to oversee surveillance operations and
what disciplinary penalties will befall violators, said Morella spokesman
Rob White. "It definitely needs to be clarified," he said.
Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer said in an interview
that videotaping could be authorized by Chief Charles H. Ramsey or his
designee, such as a police commander or an assistant chief.
Gainer acknowledged that police must specify that recording will not be
allowed in places out of public view, where there is "reasonable expectation
of privacy." He said police are still thinking through issues of public
Johnny Barnes, executive director of the American Civil Liberties
Union-National Capital Area, said he has forwarded a copy of the draft
regulations to the NAACP's Metropolitan Police and Criminal Justice Review
"The position of the ACLU remains against cameras altogether," Barnes said.
But he withheld further comment pending review by the task force, which
monitors District prisons, courts and prosecutors. The group did not return
a telephone call for comment.
Gainer said he respected the political process but hoped that police tactics
and enforcement would not be legislated.
"I will not lose any sleep if we are forbidden from using cameras, but I do
think we'll be less protected," he said. "Sometimes there are mixed messages
we send to the police: 'I want higher police visibility. I want you to
prevent crime. . . . I don't want people to run red lights -- but I also
don't want you to use technology.' "
© 2002 The Washington Post Company
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