Officials for Washington's Metro system are preparing to install video cameras on an unspecified number of rail cars, the first step in what could become a systemwide surveillance network that officials say will help them better manage crowds and investigate criminal activity.
The agency's board voted Thursday to accept $27.8 million in grants from the Department of Homeland Security to pay for cameras. Most of the money will put more cameras on buses, in ventilation shafts, at station entrances and near the ends of platforms over the next few years. Just over $7.1 million is set aside to watch passengers inside rail cars - something already done elsewhere but which continues to trouble some privacy advocates.
Metro Transit Police Deputy Chief Jeff Delinski said the primary purpose of these cameras is crowd control, despite the fact that the money comes from a transit security program. Metro briefly put cameras on a handful of rail cars in summer 2006 to see how customers would respond to experimental designs and technology.
"That spurred the idea that there's a lot of good information the cameras can capture," Delinski said. "Our rail operations people will get the most use out of it. As an ancillary benefit, the Police Department could go back and retrieve the footage."
One of the federal government's goals in paying for cameras is to deter wrongdoing by scaring would-be terrorists into thinking that they are under a watchful eye.
Delinski wouldn't say when cameras might be installed or where they will go.