Cameras to monitor protesters
THE WASHINGTON TIMES-December 20, 2002
The Metropolitan Police Department will activate surveillance cameras next month along city streets for the first time since city officials passed new legislation.
Department officials made the announcement yesterday on their Web site, stating they would activate the network of 14 cameras and install more to monitor the International Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, or ANSWER, march from Jan. 17 to 19 and the D.C. March for Life on Jan. 22.
ANSWER officials did not return calls.
Organizations participating in the pro-life march, which has taken place in the District for 30 years, said they were not aware of surveillance plans until they were contacted by The Washington Times. Though they did not oppose the heightened security, they questioned the necessity.
"My first reaction is, what possible threat does this event pose that would call for this type of surveillance?" said Dennis Di Mauro, president of Lutherans for Life in Northern Virginia.
The Rev. James I. Lamb, executive director for the group's national chapter, also questioned why police would target the march. He said he has seen no violence or problems in the six years he has been involved with the event.
"There isn't any history that would lead to a suspicion of violence or trouble of any kind," he said. "But if they want to look at us, let the cameras roll."
Kevin Morison, D.C. police spokesman, said the department also will activate additional temporary cameras for the demonstration at Farragut Square, Dupont Circle, Malcolm X Park in Northwest and the Marine Barracks in Southeast.
He said the department has no history of problems with either group but that event security has changed as terrorism has become more of a threat.
"Our approach is we will activate the surveillance system during any major event that will attract a large number of people to the District," Mr. Morison said. "In this post-September 11 environment, we need to be cognizant of the fact that terrorists could use these events as a target or cover to attack other areas."
Plans to install more cameras along the march routes on Independence Avenue SW and three other streets in Southeast have not yet been approved. The surveillance plan is based on the parade permit applications that were filed with the department.
Mr. Morison said the temporary cameras will be dismantled after the events.
He also said the surveillance cameras will not target individuals.
At least one D.C. Council member, Jim Graham, said he was concerned about the cameras.
"I am opposed to this type of surveillance because I am deathly concerned about the chilling impact on constitutionally protected expressions of freedom of speech," said Mr. Graham, the Democratic representative from Ward 1.
He also said the camera surveillance will "most assuredly" discourage nonviolent protests, marches and other events from taking place in the city.
Council members passed regulations in November allowing the cameras in public places on a limited basis, but the measure did not pass without some indecision and rancor. The council initially opposed the legislation in a 7-6 vote, then voted 7-6 in favor of the measure.
The regulations allow cameras to be used only for special events such as scheduled rallies, protests and marches. And they can be used only in public places where there is no expectation of privacy.
Mr. Graham, who voted against the measure both times, said he opposed the legislation specifically because of this type of surveillance, though he supports using cameras in high-crime areas.
"The cameras have a positive effect of dispersing entrenched criminal activity, and they deter crime," he said.
The Rev. Frank Pavone, founder and director of Priests for Life, one of the organizations in the march, said he supports anything to improve security as long as protesters maintain their freedom of speech.
"This country is in a different place now," he said.