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Metro Police Will Operate Citywide Camera Network During State of the Union

The Metropolitan Police Department announced Monday that it will activate its network of closed-circuit cameras during the president’s State of the Union address tonight.

The 14 permanent cameras will be turned on at 5 p.m. “as a routine measure to help police monitor for any suspicious or unusual activities in the downtown DC area,” according to the department’s Web site. Barring any “unusual” situations, the cameras will be deactivated at 11 p.m.

The camera feeds are displayed in the Joint Operations Command Center, which is operated out of MPD headquarters but also includes staff from federal, regional, state and local agencies.

Mounted on various buildings, the cameras focus on public spaces around the National Mall, the Capitol, the White House, Union Station and other critical installations, as well as major arteries and highways that pass through downtown. (For a more specific description of the cameras’ locations, go to

The system is one of the most extensive in the country. In addition to the cameras owned by MPD, the network eventually will be capable of linking to 1,000 other cameras that monitor streets, the Metro, schools and federal facilities in Washington.

First activated during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the system was also used amid a February 2002 terrorist alert and during the anti-war demonstrations in April.

After being heavily criticized by the D.C. City Council as well as privacy-watchdog groups, the department proposed rules for camera use last spring. Among other restrictions, the guidelines bar camera operators from arbitrarily monitoring individuals based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or other classifications protected by discrimination laws. The City Council began considering legislation in December to regulate the use of the system.

The network has no audio capability and provides video images of public spaces only, although it can zoom in on a particular individual or scene. The system does not use face-recognition or any other biometric technology, according to MDP’s Web site.

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