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In fighting crime, city hopes pictures don't lie

Indianapolis Star | October 21 2006

Smile, crooks. Mobile cameras will soon be in place throughout the city, allowing police to keep an eye on you.

Indianapolis is also purchasing 22 pole-mounted, bulletproof cameras to be placed permanently around sports stadiums, water treatment facilities and other places.

Both the permanent and mobile cameras will be equipped to detect gunshots, sense motion and recognize the faces of gang members and wanted criminals.

The purchases will be made in late November, but officials are not yet sure when the permanent cameras will be installed or how many mobile cameras will be purchased.

"We are adding officers to the streets and performing saturation patrols in high-crime areas," Mayor Bart Peterson said. "These cameras will be a great tool to complement those additional resources and increase police presence in neighborhoods."

The 22 permanent cameras will be paid for with a $1 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security. The grant will also pay for the hardware and software needed to install and operate the cameras.

Each permanently mounted camera will cost about $14,000; the movable cameras about $12,000 each, officials said.

In the future, the city will use money seized from drug dealers and other criminals to buy additional cameras. These cameras will go where the criminals are, Public Safety Director Earl Morgan said.

"(Criminals) need to focus on how they can move that activity out of Marion County," Morgan said. "They don't want to get caught on camera doing things that will land themselves before a judge at some point."
Morgan said the movable cameras also could be used to watch the Monon Trail and other public areas.

The cameras will send images to a central computer at police headquarters. Officers on the streets will be able to access any camera and view the images on their in-car computers. That, Morgan said, could help them sort out the facts and find suspects who may have fled a crime scene.

Numerous cities nationwide have the cameras. Chicago has more than 200 in city neighborhoods and will buy 100 more in 2007, Mayor Richard M. Daley announced this month.

"So far this year, these cameras have directly assisted in hundreds of arrests and have resulted in a substantial reduction in crime," Daley said in an Oct. 3 statement announcing the plan to spend $1 million on the new cameras. "We can't afford to have a police officer on every corner, but cameras are the next best thing."

In Chicago neighborhoods where the cameras have been installed for more than six months, total crime reports decreased 30 percent and drug incidents dropped 60 percent, officials said.

"These cameras have proven to be effective crime-fighting tools in other cities, and we believe this technology can have the same effect here," Peterson said.

The cameras have limitations and can be misused. Prosecutors in Baltimore have complained the images are too grainy to be useful in court. An officer in California was disciplined for using the cameras to spy on women.

Cameras also draw comparisons to the Orwellian image of Big Brother watching your every move, but Chicago officials say residents have welcomed them.

"People want these cameras in their neighborhoods, because they increase security and disrupt the activities of the drug dealers," Daley said.
As long as the technology can't see behind walls and closed doors, a civil liberties lawyer said the new cameras would not violate anyone's constitutional rights.

"You have no expectation of privacy when you are standing in an intersection," said Ken Falk, the ACLU of Indiana's legal director. "Just because we think we're alone doesn't mean we have an expectation of privacy."

 

 

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