©1999 - 2012
Edward D. Reuss
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  The London bombings of July 2005 have shown how valuable is the use of CCTV in the fight against terrorism and for law enforcement in general. The skillful use of CCTV tapes by the British resulted in identification of the suicidal terrorists who died and also led to arrests of surviving co-conspirators.  Here in NYC the recent threats to the subway system have resulted in heightened security measures. Unfortunately for New Yorkers, we haven’t the CCTV system in place as do the British.  The opposition of civil liberty advocates has delayed the full implementation of CCTV in our public areas and transportation facilities.


The use of CCTV has resulted in historical changes in law enforcement. The riots that occurred as a result of the 1992 Rodney King Incident in Los Angeles grew from the video tapes of his arrest by police officers who used excessive force. The graphic display of violence by the arresting officers was caught on video tape and repeatedly broadcast by the media.  The value of such video tapes has not been lost on the law enforcement community as well.  Many citizen groups who are not hampered by constitutional restrictions have taped the criminal actions in their communities and turned the tapes over to the police. The use of video recorders to tape the actions of prostitutes, drug dealers, and their customers can be a powerful tool in crime fighting.  The use of CCTV in the NYC Housing Developments has been supported by the residents of those communities. The placement of CCTV in the lobbies, rooftops, elevators and hallways has been a factor in the improvement in the safety and lives the residents.

To digress for a moment, the random searches that the NYPD has initiated have been met with both opposition and support. Civil liberties organizations have criticized the policy as ineffective and the specter of racial profiling is continually raised by those same critics.  The policy of random searches raises some questions for discussion.

First, if you traveled by public transportation here in NYC during the recent security alert, you would have noticed the heavy presence of the NYPD. During the alert, I traveled to Manhattan via the Staten Island Ferry.  When I entered the St. George Ferry Terminal, I noticed at least six police officers conducting random searches of the commuters.  As a retired member of the NYPD, it was easy to empathize with the cops as they scanned the hundreds of commuters entering the cavernous ferry terminal. As each ferry arrives and departs, the terminal fills rapidly as the Staten Island Railway and the many MTA buses drop off their passengers.  Logistically, a policy of random searches in the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, Grand Central, and Penn Station is a difficult mission. The installation of CCTV to monitor the thousands of commuters using terminals such as the Staten Island Ferry is an obvious need.   CCTV combined with state of the art  biometrics technology to identify known terrorists must be employed to assist the police in their duties to protect us.

The St. George Ferry Terminal is located across the street from my old Command, the 120th Precinct .  As a Lieutenant in the 120th Precinct during the first Gulf War, I recall the security scares of that period. We had the same security problems that these young officers are faced with.  The threat of terrorism was as real back in 1991 as it is today.   The rising tide of international terrorism as well as domestic terrorism dominated our lives then as now.  

However, the young cops in the terminal were confronted with an issue that neither I nor my fellow retired cops ever had to deal with.  We never were faced with the very real possibility of homicide bombers who were willing to end their lives as well as the innocent by using their bodies as weapons against what they believe is the “Great Satan”

As I waited with the crowd of commuters in the Ferry Terminal, I noticed that many of them were carrying backpacks, valises, and carrying cases. The presence of two K-9 units did present a much needed boost to the efforts of the cops.  The highly trained dogs and their handlers gave me some sense of security as I waited with the other commuters.  The use of K-9 Units would also seem to avoid the issue of “racial profiling”. 

The use of the K-9 Units would likely reveal the presence of explosives, but just how those cops would stop a determined homicidal bomber in a crowded terminal is a fearsome thought.  The presence of the K-9 Units was a comfort, but only a small one.  I knew that if and when a determined and fanatical terrorist was confronted, that would be the defining moment for those young officers.  They would be forced to make a critical decision that could cause their own deaths and the deaths of many of the innocent commuters standing in the crowded terminal.  The recent event in London where the police shot and killed a suspected terrorist is a case in point.  The circumstances surrounding the shooting by the London Police seem to indicate a test of the resolve of the British.  

Some say that the danger that a police officer faces is less than that faced by many other professions.  The person who washes the windows on the Empire State Building, or who works as a Sandhog building the water tunnels under the City of New York are some of the dangerous professions that come to mind.  What makes the police officer so unique is the duty that the officers have to protect us from the fanatical acts of terrorists as well as the criminals among us.  If the window washer falls to his death or the Sandhog loses his life as a result of an industrial accident, it is a sad fact. However, civilization itself is not at risk as a result of the death of such workers. When a police officer is killed as a direct result of terrorism, the fact that police officers are symbols of all law and government cannot be dismissed as unimportant. The specter of confronting a suicidal bomber is what makes being a police officer such an awesome responsibility.  Law enforcement always carried with it a high degree of personal responsibility.  All other professions pale in comparison. As the struggle against terrorism plays out in our history, the unique role of the police officer will be revealed as the critical factor in any success.  The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has published two training keys that reveal just how difficult it is to be a police officer today.  In those training keys, the possible sacrifice of K-9 units to isolate a possible suicide bomber or the very real necessity to use deadly force such as a “head shot” to take out such a terrorist is now part of the training recommended for police officers.

The use of CCTV by law enforcement may be an idea whose time has come. It is interesting to consider that there is little objection with CCTV by civil libertarians who visit the gambling Casinos in Atlantic City.  Who isn’t aware of the CCTV cameras that are throughout the public areas of the casinos?  Every table and area of the casino is monitored by security personnel. The sophistication of the security measures taken by the casinos makes our efforts in the field of law enforcement and counterterrorism seem outdated. However, are there abuses inherent in the use of CCTV?  After all, the casino security personnel are not the police.  Although they do not have police power, they do have some real advantages. They also can abuse this technology. They are not as restricted by constitutional safeguards as the police are.  For instance, the police can only use CCTV in public areas where there is “no expectation of privacy”. 

Still, there is the real possibility of abuse of the use of CCTV.  Is it possible to use the CCTV to zoom in and closely monitor the legs of an attractive woman who is sitting in a public park? Would it be OK to closely monitor the book that a person is reading in a public place?   Is there an “expectation of privacy” by that person?   There would seem to be areas where the use of CCTV would need to be controlled by those entrusted with its use. With proper training and with the threat of court imposed restrictions on its use by the police, such abuses can be deterred or controlled.

The value of CCTV in counterterrorism may be its greatest contribution to our society. The time for evaluaton of CCTV is short. We need to act to implement CCTV in our cities and transportation facilities.  Let’s give our police the edge they need in this fight.

Copyright 2005 Edward D.Reuss


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