Security lax for national treasures

Camera surveillance systems at the Statue of Liberty and other national icons offer inadequate security assistance to the U.S. Park Police, according to a new report from Interior Department Inspector General Earl Devaney.

The 44-page report details serious shortcomings in the Park Police's ability to protect icons such as the Statue of Liberty, Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial because of problems with management, training, staffing and technology, among others. The findings are based on interviews with more than 100 police officers.

Park police use closed-circuit TV cameras to supplement manpower, but that strategy is ineffective, the report states.

"U.S. Park Police has been unable to properly staff security posts; instead, U.S. Park Police relies on the use of closed-circuit television camera systems to augment security coverage even though these systems are not continuously monitored and are not fully functional," the IG wrote.

Although the inspector general said he did not fully evaluate the camera systems' effectiveness, he made several observations indicating how they fall short.

For example, at the Statue of Liberty and its associated parks, out of 110 cameras deployed, 27 were not functioning at the time of the IG's visit. One or two police officers are assigned to monitor the cameras while answering telephones and providing dispatch services. Departmental officials have recommended that two police officers staff the control booth at all times with an additional officer serving during peak hours.

In Washington, D.C., a single officer monitors 96 cameras simultaneously during a 12-hour shift. The same officer must also answer telephones and process prisoners. During one of the IG staff's visits, no one was watching the cameras. Furthermore, the officer on duty has no dispatch capability and must communicate with dispatch staff by radio.

The department's law enforcement division has determined that the D.C. camera system needs upgrading and additional staffing to be fully effective.

Many other state and federal agencies have installed digital video surveillance systems in recent years. The cameras and systems include features such as night vision, infrared vision, high-resolution imaging, networked video and intelligent video analytical software that can identify events or items of interest, such as unattended packages or intrusions into security zones.

Camera surveillance systems have been a growing field for government contractors. In one of the largest projects, sponsored by the Homeland Security Department, Boeing Co. is deploying security cameras and other sensors along the United States/Mexico land border as part of the Secure Border Initiative Network. The southwestern U.S. portion of SBInet is expected to cost $8 billion.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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