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Metropolitan Police Department
Draft General Order on
Closed Circuit Television Cameras
(Surveillance Cameras)

April 4, 2002




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Title: Closed Circuit Television Cameras (CCTV)

Series/Number: GO-OPS-TBA
Effective Date: DRAFT 04/04/02
Distribution: A

I. Background
II. Policy
III. Definitions
V. Regulations
VI. Procedural Guidelines

I. Background

The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) recognizes that improvement and changes in technology can greatly enhance law enforcement efforts. The Department has utilized this method of crime prevention technology by strategic placement of closed-circuit television cameras (CCTV) in the District of Columbia. 

Past U.S. Supreme Court and lower court decisions strongly suggest that this type of police monitoring is a valid exercise of a government's police powers. Under current interpretations of the First and Fourth Amendment, CCTV appears to represent a valid use of the state's power to protect its citizens. It does not intrude upon an individual's sphere of privacy, but rather records events occurring in public space for which individuals do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. 

In the case of Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967), the court held that the Fourth Amendment provides constitutional protection to those areas in which a person reasonably expects privacy. MPD believes the CCTV program can withstand legal scrutiny provided the cameras are focused on public areas and the images obtained are not used or disseminated improperly. Safeguards will ensure that the technology is not abused. 

Title 1 of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1966 (16 U.S.C. Section 2510) limits the ability of law enforcement to execute wiretaps. Under Title 1, police departments must obtain a warrant prior to secretly intercepting some communications. 

In contrast, silent video — as is used by the MPD (involving no recording of sounds) — on public streets does not have to comport with Title 1 because the Act concerns itself only with devices that capture audio signals. 

MPD has employed an internal network of CCTV within the Synchronized Operations Command Complex (SOCC) that are highly secured and protected against unauthorized access. MPD shall comply with all local, federal and case law applicable to the use of surveillance cameras in public space. 

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II. Policy

The policy of MPD is to utilized CCTV in its mission to safeguard the District of Columbia. The CCTV systems represent a valid use of a government's power to protect its citizens and will be activated as needed during special events in which there is a potential threat to public safety, critical incidents, heightened states of alert or for traffic control. MPD's CCTV systems are intended to augment the District's efforts to prevent crime and fear of crime in the District of Columbia. The technology neither will be used to replace current policing techniques nor operated where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. As the Department explores the use of other advanced technologies, MPD shall engage in consultation with public and private entities during the course of development and implementation. If any CCTV systems are mounted in residential areas, public notice will be given with the exception of those utilized pursuant to a court order. Cameras may be utilized only in those residential areas experiencing crime occurring on public space. 

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III. Definitions

When used in this directive, the following terms shall have the designated meanings: 

  1. Closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras — Any live video link that is electronically received into the SOCC.
  2. External Video Feeds — Any video link received in the SOCC on a live basis from outsides sources to include other law enforcement agencies, Departments of Transportation, METRO, D.C. Public Schools, etc.

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IV. Regulations

  1. Authorization of Use of CCTV Cameras: 
    1. Members of the Department shall receive authorization from the Chief of Police, or his designee, prior to utilizing the CCTV and/or conducting recordings.
    2. An official of the rank of Lieutenant or above shall supervise and monitor CCTV activities conducted in the SOCC. As the threat level increases above Threat Level One, an Assistant Chief shall assume these responsibilities. 
    3. All recorded CCTV footage shall be maintained and secured by the official in command of the SOCC.
    4. MPD shall not use audio in conjunction with the CCTV unless appropriate court orders are obtained.
  2. Unauthorized use or misuse of the cameras will result in disciplinary action.
    1. Operators of the CCTV systems shall not target/observe individuals arbitrarily or based on race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability or other classifications protected by law.
    2. CCTV systems shall be used to observe locations that are in public view and where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.
    3. CCTV will not focus on hand bills, fliers, etc., being distributed or carried pursuant to First Amendment Rights.

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V. Procedural Guidelines

  1. The objectives of the CCTV program are to prevent crime and provide increased security and public safety. Video images are actively monitored for crime prevention, observation, evidentiary and traffic deconfliction.
  2. Use of the CCTV systems is incident driven; the system is not routinely monitored on a continuous basis. SOCC personnel will enter incident information into the running resume of the daily SOCC report, as well as, the disposition of the incident. 
  3. Recording of video images shall commence only upon authorization of the Chief of Police or his designee.
  4. A law enforcement officer will be dispatched to any area in which an incident is observed. 
  5. Retention
    1. Video recordings of unusual incidents and planned events shall be indexed, stored and maintained for 72 hours after which time they may be recorded over.
    2. Video recordings that contain evidence of criminal activity or capture an occurrence that may subject the Department to civil liability shall be maintained until the final case disposition.
  6. Maintenance
    The MPD shall be responsible for the safekeeping, maintenance and servicing of MPD equipment (i.e. cameras, cable, monitors, recorders, etc.)
  7. Public Notification
    1. MPD will post on the departmental website information pertaining to the general capabilities of CCTV systems, their locations and their use in departmental operations.
    2. If utilized in residential areas, MPD will post signage indicating the use of CCTV systems in those areas with the exception of those utilized pursuant to a court order.
  8. Audits
    The Office of Professional Responsibility will conduct periodic audits at least quarterly to ensure compliance with this directive.

Charles H. Ramsey
Chief of Police


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