Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Metro stations could get anti-crime cameras

D.C. government would pay for security measure

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The Takoma Metro is among 10 Washington, D.C., stations that may soon receive exterior surveillance cameras to reduce crime.

Designs may vary for each station, but the cameras, to be paid for by the D.C. government, generally will be able to capture images within a 150-foot radius and rotate 360 degrees. Officials say they could be installed this fall.

The Takoma station is in the District, but is very close to the border with Takoma Park. Montgomery County stations are not slated to receive exterior cameras.

There are already more than 1,000 surveillance cameras that monitor the inside of stations throughout the Metro system.

Jim Graham, a D.C. councilman who put forward the idea and is also a board member for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, said he hopes the cameras serve as a crime deterrent and provide evidence if a crime does take place.

‘‘I believe most people do not want to commit a crime in front of a camera,” Graham said, emphasizing that the cameras will not replace patrol officers. ‘‘This is another tool in the toolbox. It’s not a magic wand, but this is another thing that we can use to help make the area around the stations safe.”

Graham said the D.C. Council has allotted about $250,000 for the cameras and is still discussing specific locations.

Takoma Park Police Chief Ronald Ricucci said he thinks the cameras will deter crime around the Takoma Metro station, which he said continues to have reports of fighting and people running through entrances without paying.

‘‘I think it’s a positive development because Metro doesn’t have enough officers to have them in each station,” Ricucci said. ‘‘It’s a place of activity, and obviously cameras taking surveillance photos is going to make people think twice.”

Seth Grimes, president of the crime prevention group Safe Takoma, which monitors the area around the Metro, said his group supported the surveillance cameras.

The 10 D.C. stations were recommended by Metro Police Chief Michael Taborn, and include the Anacostia, Rhode Island Avenue, Congress Heights, Deanwood, Minnesota Avenue, Fort Totten, Brookland-CUA, Tenleytown and Potomac Avenue stations. Graham said the stations are not necessarily those with the most crime, but rather the ones police believe could most benefit.

An exterior camera at the U Street⁄African-American Civil War Memorial⁄Cardozo station has been in service since 2006. According to a news release from WMATA, that camera is visible to the public and has helped keep crime to a minimum, in one instance leading to an arrest in 2008 for an assault.

Montgomery County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring said she thought installing cameras at Metro stations was the right step for D.C., but she does not believe the need exists yet for increased surveillance at Montgomery County Metro stations.

‘‘I think that the jury’s out as to whether these cameras are necessary at our county unless we see an increase in crime at the Metro,” she said.

Ervin said budget constraints have prevented the idea from being seriously considered in the county, but added that it should be discussed if there were reports of increased violent crimes at county Metro stations.

WMATA spokeswoman Candace Smith said the District, and not Metro, is paying for the cameras because the project’s initial request came from the District.

‘‘If there are particular projects that a local government wants, then they fund those projects,” she said. ‘‘If Montgomery County wanted it, they would have to pay for it.”