Weekend Read: High-Tech Crime Prevention in DC

Greater Greater Washington looks at how DC police are ramping up high-tech crime-fighting efforts:

Public listservs now include more than 10,000 members and allow citizens to read arrest and crime reports in almost real time. MPD has installed speed cameras around the city, added closed-circuit television cameras, and ShotSpotter devices, which immediately alert police to the sound of gunfire, in high-crime areas.

Not all technology investments are working, however. A 2011 study by the Urban Institute concluded the city’s more than 70 neighborhood crime cameras do not have a measurable effect on crime.

Surveillance of the city’s foreboding corners and hardscrabble courtyards began in summer 2006 by Chief Charles Ramsey, now police chief in Philadelphia, with funds from the DC Council to install nearly 50 cameras. Cameras are reportedly monitored from a single control center with a police officer at the rank of lieutenant or higher present at all times. They retain footage for 10 days.

According to the study’s analysis of DC’s network, “[B]ecause the video cannot be zoomed in after-the-fact without distorting the image, the footage is often too granular to make positive identifications. Cameras are also sensitive to changes in weather and lighting and do not always maintain a continuous flow of coverage.” The study cited the “limited use of camera footage in court cases” as evidence that cameras don’t help solve or prosecute cases.

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