Washington and CCTV: it's 2010, not nineteen eighty-four.

Author:Xenakis, Aileen B.
Position::Closed circuit television - Somebody's Watching Me: Surveillance and Privacy in an Age of National Insecurity

Washington, D.C.'s Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) program and the role it plays in homeland security and law enforcement can inform other jurisdictions in their development of CCTV policies and implementation. Examining both the process by which Washington, D.C. established its CCTV program and the regulations governing it yields a comprehensive understanding of the practical issues as well as constitutional issues that arise when balancing security, privacy rights, and government transparency. Analyzing strategies of successful jurisdictions, preparing to address the comments those jurisdictions received, and identifying the gaps remaining will improve the efficacy of developing CCTV programs. For an effective, efficient CCTV program that reinforces people's faith in government, departments must draft regulations that clearly articulate their end goal as well as the means they plan to use to achieve it.


    This article identifies best practices for creating successful Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) programs, as well as areas to be further examined in order to implement CCTV technology and policy most effectively. Additionally, this article identifies the legal issues that arise as CCTV technology develops more quickly than the law and provides analysis of regulations governing the existing CCTV program in Washington, D.C. By sharing best practices, analyzing the comments and concerns about CCTV technology generated in other jurisdictions, and tailoring regulations to individual programs, government agencies can create successful CCTV programs that make the community safer without sacrificing transparency, civil liberties protections, or faith in government. This essential transparency can be achieved by (1) drafting clear, straightforward regulations that reflect sensitivity to CCTV technology's potential to be misused; and (2) including added protections to assuage concerns.


    CCTV programs are becoming the next stage in law enforcement technology. Police departments have, with increasing frequency, placed agency-owned cameras in public areas and streamed the cameras' video feeds to an observation room, where police department employees can view multiple screens and see multiple areas of the city at the same time. (1) CCTV technology allows an agency employee to be effectively in two places at once--or more than two--and to observe what might otherwise require five or ten officers. (2)

    CCTV programs increase efficiency in two critical ways: (1) by conserving law enforcement finances; and (2) by decreasing officers' reaction time. First, it is less expensive to pay one officer to view multiple screens and then, during an incident, contact officers in the area of the incident to respond, than to place an officer on every street corner, or even on every corner where a camera is located (which would be prohibitively expensive). Even then, officers On the street would need to rely on being in the right place at the right time whereas the cameras are constantly present. Second, CCTV can decrease the response time necessary to arrive at the scene and begin addressing an incident. This allows officers to respond quickly because they know precisely where to go without having to be in the right place at the right time to observe the initiation of an incident. CCTV also greatly reduces the miscommunication that is possible when relying on 911 operators, dispatchers, or others involved in relaying time-sensitive messages. The benefit of improved communication is enhanced when multiple agencies view their CCTV footage in the same room, often called a fusion center. (3)

    Fusion centers operate on a principle of efficiency that serves a broader purpose than traditional law enforcement. To gain situational awareness (4) or a common operating picture, (5) a city would purchase compatible cameras for each agency, for example, the same kind of cameras made by the same company for the jurisdiction's transportation department, school system, or emergency management, and send the video feeds from all of those cameras to one room. This room, a fusion center, is where employees from those agencies monitor multiple video feeds.

    Fusion centers allow for immediate communication among employees of various agencies, thereby minimizing confusion and response time. For example, if a transportation department camera reveals an automobile accident threatening human life, the transportation employee can immediately communicate this information to a fire and emergency medical services representative, who can begin his agency's notification and response chain. By monitoring the video feed, agency employees can provide real-time information to assist first responders in making the best decisions. This preferred outcome cannot happen without immediately available information.

    CCTV programs garner much attention from city governments, in particular because of their promise of efficiency and effectiveness. Though some opponents argue that cameras may just displace crime, (6) this displace merit is, in fact, a very effective disruption of crime. The urban crime arising out of illegal narcotics sales and exchanges is driven by unofficial jurisdictions, or territories, occupied by certain dealers. (7) By displacing a transaction even one block, CCTV cameras disrupt the flow of criminal commerce and prevent criminals from establishing comfortable rhythms and patterns. (8) Additionally, general and wide-spread knowledge of cameras, including but not limited to the government's posting of the cameras' locations, serves two critical functions: it deters crime (9) and it inspires confidence in the government's ability to serve and protect its residents, workers, commuters, and tourists. (10)


    When developing CCTV programs and policies, examining the programs in other cities, including Baltimore and London, reveals which strategies are most effective in accomplishing different goals. Examining other city's programs is the first step in developing a city's own CCTV policies.

    Many other cities have developed and implemented CCTV programs, and each city has developed its system differently depending on the city's individual goals. Analyzing the differences and benefits other cities provide through their CCTV programs is crucial for identifying a city's own objectives and designing an effective program to accomplish them.

    Part of Baltimore's pilot CCTV program focused on utilizing a small number of cameras concentrated in the city's downtown economic and tourism hub. (11) By publicizing the program and posting large signs within monitored areas, Baltimore achieved its goal to discourage--or at least displace--crime, and to reassure tourists that it is safe to shop and dine in the area. (12) Baltimore's goal was to deter crime and to solve more cases, (13) but, because cameras were concentrated in the downtown area, some argued that it just displaced crime. (14)

    Conversely, London's goal is a complete view of the entire city at all times. London boasts the largest and most extensive CCTV program in the world, with over 500,000 cameras. (15) As a capital city, London employs many cameras in all areas of the city in order to improve situational awareness. The program's extensiveness makes the CCTV program efficient, both cost-wise and in delivering safety, since a government cannot justify investing money and employee efforts in a system that is not large enough to capture the activities that pose a threat. CCTV expenditures and research will be fruitless if government employees use CCTV to observe a crime and then lose their lead as soon as the activity moves out of the scope of the cameras.

    Baltimore's and London's programs heavily influenced Washington, D.C.'s plans for its CCTV program and policy. Washington, D.C.'s finished product presents a unique case study; other jurisdictions examining the way D.C. constructed its CCTV program will find both the successful elements of D.C.'s program as well as the outstanding issues yet to be addressed. The Washington, D.C. case study illustrates how important it is to identify a CCTV program's purpose clearly and transparently, and to draft regulations that are tailored to achieve that purpose while protecting civil liberties from being compromised.


    Washington, D.C.'s CCTV program, also called the Video Interoperability for Public Safety (VIPS) program, (16) is a benchmark in CCTV policymaking, and the process by which the city has developed and implemented its CCTV program can inform other jurisdictions as they develop their own CCTV programs. Washington, D.C. provides an excellent example of tailoring a CCTV program and using CCTV technology to meet a city's unique needs.

    Other jurisdictions may look to the process by which D.C. established its CCTV program to create a checklist of sorts to understand better the impact that a CCTV program has on stakeholders. For example, CCTV cameras are typically placed in strategic areas, but cameras may need to be moved or added if new building structures block camera feeds from viewing certain areas, assets, or infrastructure. Depending on the jurisdiction, this may implicate the city's building code and various other areas of legislation and regulation. There may be different legal procedures for requiring new building owners to outfit their structures with compatible video feeds or allowing the government to place cameras on the new building. This is just one of several peripheral issues affecting the success of a CCTV program.

    Jurisdictions that are just developing new programs can anticipate these issues by looking to other programs, such as Washington, D.C.'s, that came before theirs. Though there is certainly something to be gained by examining London's program, which is the largest and oldest CCTV program in the world and has proven success, (17) it...

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