Lights, Camera, Civil Action

August 31, 2006

Big Brother has never loomed so large as he does now in the neighborhood of Georgetown. In the wake of the recent District “crime emergency,” City Council passed a number of measures meant to combat the crime spike, including a system of network surveillance cameras. The system is managed by D.C.’s police chief, moderated by the D.C. City Council and closely watched by the mayor in order to minimize its intrusiveness in the lives of ordinary citizens. However, the camera system is a Pandora’s box that has the potential to be abused by Georgetown residents irritated by the antics of their college-aged neighbors and will surely result in the erosion of town-gown relations. The Georgetown Advisory Neighborhood Comission cannot be allowed to dictate the paramenters of the security camera project.

The Metro Police Department’s new program, which was widely embraced by the D.C. City Council, appears to be a productive step towards addressing the recent surge in crime. The CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) will be utilized “passively”—police officers will not watch them live, but instead, if there is a crime reported in the camera’s reach, the MPD will go to the instant replay. Theoretically, it should zoom in on criminals, not underage Hoyas carrying a case of Busch Light from their favorite liquor store.

But if the ANC has its way, 13 of the four dozen cameras used by the D.C. police will be in our backyard, though that ratio is hardly proportionate with the true concentration of crime District-wide. What’s worse, an organization called Georgetown Crime Stoppers wants to install a private security grid, putting two recorders on each block of our cobble-stoned streets.

The deployment of cameras should not be influenced by community politics and comparative economic wealth, as it threatens to be. MPD should have full control in choosing their sites and install them in the District’s crime hotspots. But, according to an MPD fact sheet on the use of CCTV, the D.C. Police Chief is supposed to consult with the appropriate ANC commissioner as well as citizens’ organizations on the location of the cameras. In fairness, our ANC has stated that it only expects to get a few, but that hasn’t stopped it from asking.

The D.C. police should maintain a city-wide perspective on fighting crime. Georgetown resides in Washington’s more secure district—there were zero reported homicides and only seven reported sexual assaults in the Second District in 2005.

While MPD’s program is here to stay, the D.C. government should block any attempt to install a private surveillance grid in Georgetown. Georgetown Crime Stoppers’ plan to indiscriminately place cameras throughout the neighborhood is flat-out scary. The group is even considering giving control of the devices to each resident instead of hiring a private security company. Such a system could help catch a rowdy student in the despicable act of stepping on a resident’s precious petunias—a far cry from the stated targets of the crime emergency.

Editorial Board
The Editorial Board is the official opinion of the Georgetown Voice. Its current composition can be found on the masthead. The Board strives to publish critical analyses of events at both Georgetown and in the wider D.C. community. We welcome everyone from all backgrounds and experience levels to join us!

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