Today’s Investigative Special Report August 13, 2012 “Dealing With Today’s Law Enforcement Specialized Investigations” “Is The Domain Awareness System Good or Bad For Americans?”

Red light camera system at the Springfield, Oh...
Red light camera system at the Springfield, Ohio intersection of Limestone and Leffels. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lawrence W. Daly

In the early 90’s traffic cameras were installed at many intersections in several jurisdictions. The belief in installing these cameras would bring about a new law enforcement aspect reference enforcing what people were doing at these intersections such as not stopping for red lights; known as red-light cameras. Then cities all across the nation began installing and using traffic cameras for speed in school zones.

This week the announcement by the New York Police Department and Microsoft embarked upon a new program where there are 3000 cameras installed all over the City of New York in high crime areas.

The red-light cameras came about because the insurance companies documented that 22 percent of traffic accidents in the United States are caused by drivers running red lights. According to reporter Tom Harris of auto.howstuffworks.com, “Every year, these accidents kill some 800 people and rack up an estimated $7 billio­n dollars in property damage, medical bills, lost productivity and insurance hikes. And this sort of traffic violation seems to be on the rise. In many areas, red-light violations have increased by 10 percent or more since the 1980s.”

English: NYPD Dodge Charger #2909 in midtown M...
English: NYPD Dodge Charger #2909 in midtown Manhattan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Insurance Institute states there are over 700 jurisdictions which use the red-light cameras which began appearing in the 1990’s. Further, that 75% of the population support the use of these cameras.

A 2007 study in Virginia found rear-end collisions increased 27 percent after red-light cameras were installed, while red-light running crashes decreased 42 percent. A study of red-light cameras in Washington, D.C., by The Washington Post found that despite producing more than 500,000 tickets (and generating over $32 million in revenues), red-light cameras didn't reduce injuries or collisions. In fact, the number of accidents increased at the camera-equipped intersections. Likewise, red-light cameras in Portland, Ore., produced a 140 percent increase in rear-end collisions at monitored intersections, and a study by the Virginia Transportation Research Council found that although red-light cameras decreased collisions resulting from people running traffic lights, they significantly increased accidents overall (Myautotips.com, 2011).

According to NBC news in Chicago, “…eight of the ten City Council members on the Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety voted for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s unpopular speed camera proposal to advance to the full Chicago City Council.  Emanuel’s speed camera’s consisted of 500 speed cameras, in addition to the 382 red-light cameras already in operation in the city’s nearly 1600 school zones. The cost of these speed and red-light cameras was not revealed. However, the City of Chicago brings in about $68 million per year from traffic violations and fines.

The new program adopted in New York known as the Domain Awareness System (DAS) is designed to pull together public data in real time, including crimes records, 911 calls and footage from about 3,000 surveillance cameras. The purpose of the DAS program is to monitor and track individuals who come to the attention of the monitor, vehicles which maybe acting suspicious, and packages which are abandoned by individuals in places which raise concerns of public safety issues.

In the meantime, law enforcement have introduced the drones into the skies with audio and video camera capabilities to monitor specific individuals, residences, businesses, and other places of interests. Most of the drones are utilized to monitor individuals who may be under investigation for gang activity, drug activity, and so forth.

All of these programs have great costs financially and constitutionally. The costs of installing the DAS program in New York was somewhere between 30 and 40 million dollars. Further, the City of New York will make approximately 30% of the profits on Microsoft sales to other cities and countries; this according to Mayor Bloomberg.

With drones, red-light and speeding cameras, and the DAS being established across America, the CBS television show “Person of Interest” is becoming a reality not a fiction show. In this show a computer genius develops a machine for the government that is used to detect information leading to acts of terrorism before they happen…the information obtained from all of the cameras scattered across the City of New York.

Individuals and organizations such as the ACLU have raised concerns about violating someone’s privacy. The concern of how far is law enforcement allowed to intrude upon individuals who are not committing crimes raises many questions about how far will the criminal justice system go to protect the public? The ethical and legal issues will be an issue until someone is arrested and charged with a crime and the courts decide just how intrusive the DAS system is and can be.

With the new technology available to cities, counties, and states when it comes to traffic cameras, drones, and now the DAS system, privacy will be a commodity which is something citizens will find to be limited. Although some citizens will feel comfortable with the extension of the cameras writing speeding and traffic tickets, the drones and DAS may step over the line of the freedom many have enjoyed for centuries here in America. There is no doubt all of these new technological system will keep city, county, and state employees busy and in business until the systems are enhanced, their usage limited or shut down by court decisions. Only time will tell.

Lawrence W. Daly           
Puyallup, WA

Description: Larry-Daly_01

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