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Cameras to Oversee D.C. Festivities for Fourth


July 03, 2002
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Cameras to Oversee D.C. Festivities for Fourth

by David A. Fahrenthold, Washington Post

A new network of security cameras will monitor the Washington Mall tomorrow during Independence Day festivities, the U.S. Park Police announced yesterday - moving up by months the introduction of video surveillance.

Police would not say how many cameras will watch the Mall or where they have been placed. Park Police Chief Teresa C. Chambers said that the cameras were installed over the past three weeks and that they would "see the areas that will be populated" on the holiday.

"The camera can do the work of probably 20 officers," Chambers said after a news conference near the Washington Monument. Police officials said security precautions would not interfere with the festivities.

The FBI warned law enforcement agencies nationwide last week that crowds assembled for July Fourth festivities could pose inviting targets for terrorists, though officials stressed they had no specific or credible threats. Just in case, FBI field offices throughout the country have worked with police in creating contingency plans for the holiday.

The result is one of the most security-conscious Independence Day celebrations in memory. The most obvious sign of stepped-up security will be double rows of wooden fencing surrounding the city's monumental core. The fencing will stretch from the western side of the U.S. Capitol to the Potomac River and north to Lafayette Square. Only Third, Seventh and 14th streets will be kept open across the Mall.

Visitors will enter the fenced-off sections through 24 checkpoints, where bags will be searched and some people will be scanned by officers with metal-detecting wands. Boaters will be kept 150 feet from the Potomac River shoreline between the Memorial Bridge and the 14th Street bridge. The Smithsonian Metro station will be closed because it is within the security perimeter.

Even the fireworks, always under 24-hour guard, will be under tighter security this year, Park Police said. In all, 2,000 police officers from the various law enforcement agencies in the area will be on duty on the Mall.

The D.C. police department also has a network of surveillance cameras, which officers will monitor from a new command center at police headquarters. Police have about a dozen of their own cameras, positioned in high-traffic areas such as Georgetown, Union Station and the Hotel Washington near the White House. The network also can tap into as many as 1,000 cameras operated by other agencies.

The new Park Police cameras will transmit to a station near Hains Point. They will be turned off after tomorrow, and some or all might be taken down while their permanent use is evaluated, said Sgt. Scott Fear, a Park Police spokesman.

In March, the National Park Service -- which oversees the Park Police -- told Congress of a plan to put cameras in several places around the Mall by October. The Park Service said rules for using the cameras would be developed and shared with lawmakers.

But aides to Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.), chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee on the District, and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said yesterday that they had not been told of the plan to use cameras tomorrow and that the Park Service had not submitted guidelines for its surveillance.

"We perfectly understand the need for . . . security on July Fourth," said Robert White, a spokesman for Morella. However, he said, "any time you use electronic surveillance, you should have written policies and standards to govern [its] use."

Fear said that policies had been drawn up for use of the cameras but that they could not be made public for security reasons. In May, the National Park Service set up and tested a surveillance system at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island that scanned faces in the crowd and checked them against a database of terrorism suspects, but no such use is contemplated for the Mall, Fear said.

Chambers said the cameras would be used to scan the crowd, looking for suspicious activity or packages. She said some of the cameras can swivel and record for later viewing.

Three of the new cameras appear to have shown up on the cornice of the Lincoln Memorial in the last two weeks -- two on the side of the Reflecting Pool, one facing west toward the Potomac.

Stephen Block, of the D.C. area chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said yesterday that he had not heard about the cameras being set up for tomorrow. The ACLU has fought against the Mall cameras as well as the D.C. police surveillance.

"People are going to be on the National Mall showing their affection for this country, and it's not appropriate for them to be subject to this kind of observation," Block said.




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