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Margret Kellems, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice
Testimony on Video Technology in Police Surveillance and Traffic Control
June 13, 2002




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JUNE 13, 2002

12:00 P.M. Good Morning Chairpersons Patterson and Schwartz. I am Margret Kellems, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice. Seated next to me today are Executive Assistant Chief Michael Fitzgerald of Metropolitan Police Department and Dan Tangherlini, Director of the District's Department of Transportation.. I will be speaking on the topic of the use of CCTV as a public safety tool. Director Tangherlini will speak to how this tool will be used as a traffic management resource.

Thank you for convening this hearing on the issue of the use of video technology and its applications to both police work and traffic management in the District of Columbia. As we all know, issues of national security have taken a renewed priority in the country generally, and particularly here in the Nation's Capital since the events of September 11. In that sense, as a Nation. and as a city, it has become necessary to examine new ways to secure the safety of the people who reside, work in, or visit the District in a variety of ways. The use of Closed Circuit Television represents but one additional tool that has proven to be useful in the limited capacity in which MPD has implemented it to date. And as with all new applications of technologies, we must proceed cautiously and purposefully as we consider additional applications.

As a starting point, I believe it is useful to put CCTV into context. As we sit here today, CCTV is already a widely used technology. Every time we walk into a bank, past an ATM machine, into many of the thousands of businesses in the District, we are captured on CCTV systems. What is at issue today is a new application of this technology. In particular, we face the use of CCTV by the government and the unique capability that the government could create in having access to a wider network of cameras than existing entities, which represents a potentially powerful tool. With that in mind, the Administration believes that there are appropriate applications of this technology by government that will serve the public interest.

And we believe we can use this technology in a way that will appropriately weigh individual privacy interests, equity interests, government transparency, and communities' desires. As I stated before, we need to implement CCTV purposefully, so we need to be clear about the reasons that we intend to use this technology. There are at least several discrete objectives that CCTV can accomplish, which the Rand Corporation pointed out at the March hearing in front of the House of Representatives: 

  1. Making better use of public resources, including law enforcement and traffic management tools; 
  2. Preventing crime from occurring; 
  3. Detecting crime as it occurs; 
  4. Reducing citizens' fear of crime; 
  5. Aiding criminal investigations after a crime has occurred; and 
  6. Countering terrorism.

How we choose to use CCTV technology should correspond to the goals we intend to accomplish, and those goals must correspond both to our agencies' missions and citizen expectations. Currently, MPD has fourteen cameras located primarily downtown. To date, MPD's use of CCTV has been narrow and need-driven, activated only for specific public events or documented threats. These cameras may be monitored from MPD's Synchronized Operations Command Center (SOCC). The locations of the existing cameras were chosen in part because they were thought to be the highest risk targets for terrorism. This limited number of cameras provide central picture of high-risk areas without having to dedicate scarce police resources that communities would like to see patrolling their streets. During mass demonstrations, these cameras are an effective tool for making deployment decisions to ensure demonstrations or other mass public events can proceed peacefully. These uses of CCTV correspond to several of the threat of terrorism in high-risk areas. Although we may achieve some of the other goals such as crime detection, those were not primary justification for these cameras.

The larger policy question as we move forward centers on the issue of using CCTV to achieve any of the other goals stated above. In particular, we must address how the use of CCTV should support MPD's mission, which, as you know, is "to prevent crime and the fear of crime, ...[while] work[ing] with others to build safe and healthy communities throughout the District of Columbia." More concretely, the question is whether we want to use CCTV technology as a tool to combat crime. 

Currently, MPD does not have any specific plans to place cameras in residential neighborhoods; however, as you know, citizens in various parts of the city already have expressed an interest in having cameras in their neighborhoods as a crime prevention or fear reduction device. The Mayor is supportive of finding ways in the future to increase the applications of CCTV. In particular, he would like to see CCTV used judiciously as a crime prevention tool, but only in a way that is consistent with MPD's philosophy of community policing and responsiveness to neighborhood concerns.

This means several things: first, CCTV would only supplement community policing. There is no substitute for having officers in our neighborhoods working with communities to solve problems. Second, consistent with the community policing philosophy, we would only place cameras in neighborhoods were aware of their presence, which of course would require extensive public notification and input process prior to the installation of additional cameras in the city. Unlike London's program, which was uniform and not grounded in community needs, the District's would be consistent with the Mayor's policy of planning on a community-by-community basis. Third, the use of cameras in the city would have to be transparent. That is, the rules governing their operation must be public, and, to be an effective deterrent, camera locations must be public. Again, however, currently MPD does not have any specific plans to install cameras in neighborhoods.

Some opponents of CCTV rightly raise the issue of the effectiveness of the technology. If we justify CCTV's citing crime prevention, then we should at least be realizing that goal. Most of the current research does not conclusively establish any link between crime prevention and CCTV cameras. Part of the problem is a conceptual one of measuring deterrence. How do we measure what never happened? But an equally large part of the problem is that crime levels are impacted by innumerable number of social and economic factors and isolating the effect of one crime prevention tool. This is not to say that we should stop trying to measure the impact, but conclusive evidence may be too high a bar. Just as a number of studies have found no single, direct correlation between levels of police officers and crime reduction, we know that police are essential to a safe city. We also know that there is a correlation between police presence and the community's fear of crime - more police make the citizenry feel safer.

Anecdotally, we do know that the use of targeted surveillance cameras has been an essential tool in law enforcement strategies here and in many jurisdictions, particularly in targeting drug markets. Although what we are talking about today is substantially different, we do believe that a well implemented, targeted program in the District could yield crime reduction benefits. And we would be committed to monitoring the effectiveness over time. 

No matter what form CCTV takes in the District, the most important questions regarding the use of CCTV will center around the rules governing their operations. As you know, we have prepared draft regulations for the operation of CCTV by MPD in the District for which we will be seeking public comment and Council approval.

I want to talk briefly about some of the major provisions contained in the current draft. First, there is the issue of where MPD's cameras would be located. As I mentioned, MPD currently has 14 cameras, the majority of which are in the downtown area. Barring any exigent circumstances, any additional cameras that MPD would add would be subject to a formal public notification and comment process. The regulations contemplate a public announcement of the block on which a camera would be placed. To help ensure community notification, the local ANC, and of course the Councilmember, would be notified of the camera announcement. After a 30-day comment period, the Chief of Police would make a final determination on the placement decision.

Second, the usage of CCTV feeds is clearly defined. Operators are prohibited from targeting or observing individuals solely because of their race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, or other classifications protected by law. Feeds will only be used to observe locations that are in public view and where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. And CCTVs will not focus on hand bills, fliers, or other materials being distributed or carried pursuant to First Amendment Rights. CCTV will not use audio technology, unless a court order is obtained specifically for that purpose. Violations of the procedures may be punished by administrative or criminal sanctions, as appropriate.

Third, the proposed regulations speak to the process by which video feeds may be recorded and taped materials stored and accessed. Except in exigent circumstances, written authorization to record must come from the Chief of Police. During any period of recording, an official of the rank of lieutenant or above will supervise CCTV recording. When CCTV cameras are recording, the recording must be documented in a catalog indicating the times that recording started and stopped.

Any recorded materials are to be stored and maintained for 10 business days, after which time they are to be recorded over or destroyed. The Chief must authorize the retention of any tape for a period longer than 10 business days. Internal access to any recorded materials will be treated under the same rules governing MPD's other stored evidence.

Fourth, the regulations would permit MPD to enter into agreements to access other entities' CCTV feeds, as defined by law or regulation. Any feeds that MPD would receive from another system would be subject to these regulations.

Finally, the regulations define a public information process, including a provision requiring MPD on a semi-annual basis to provide updates on the CCTV system at community meetings, which will be announced publicly. MPD would also include information on the usage of CCTV in its annual report.

These procedures were based on a review of the American Bar Association Standards, International Association of Police Chiefs of Police Standards, the Public Law Research Institute, and the policies of various police departments, including Baltimore. Additionally, throughout the development process MPD reached out to interested groups, including the ACLU, the Gay and Lesbian Activist Alliance, Public Defender Service, National Black Police Association and Federation of Citizens Associations, to solicit feedback. We are pleased that after their review of the current draft procedures, the American Bar Association concluded that they are compliant with ABA Standards. We intend to submit a final proposal to Council for approval and to the public for comment in the coming weeks.

I thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today on the issue of CCTV and I look forward to continuing this dialog and answering any questions you may have.

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