The NYPD is installing 505 surveillance cameras around the city – and pushing to safeguard lower Manhattan with a “ring of steel” that could track hundreds of thousands of people and cars a day, authorities revealed yesterday. The police cameras will constantly keep watch over neighborhoods plagued by crime and monitor potential terror targets as the city moves to put another 1,200 cops on the street, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.
The exact locations of the cameras were not revealed, but the electronic eyes will be set up in 253 spots, including many Operation Impact zones – high-crime areas already targeted by teams of cops.
“They’ll serve to reinforce safety already stabilized by Operation Impact, and serve as a high-visibility deterrent and investigative tool in other outdoor, public places,” Kelly said.
Recording high-quality images, the electronic sentinels will help the city’s Finest track down criminals and terrorists as well as provide valuable evidence to convict them.
Most of the cameras will be clearly marked so crooks know that their every move is being recorded by the cops.
The NYPD is also testing audio sensors that would allow the cameras to point in the direction of gunshots, sources said. The cameras will be put up in Brooklyn first before spreading to other boroughs.
City Hall is paying for the cameras using $9.1million in homeland security funds.
The NYPD also has applied for $81.5 million in federal aid to install surveillance cameras, computerized license plate readers and vehicle barriers around lower Manhattan, Kelly said.
The security measures would be similar to London’s “ring of steel,” which gained worldwide recognition after that city’s terror attacks of last July, when police cameras provided images of the suspected bombers.
The NYPD has no comprehensive system to monitor the Financial District – considered the nation’s No. 1 terror target – and a team of five NYPD experts visited London in September to get a look at the “ring of steel.”
Aboveground, London has cameras posted at 16 entry points and 12 exits from the City of London, an enclave that includes that city’s financial district and landmarks such as St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The cameras capture images of license plates and drivers’ faces. Officials then run the license plates through a database of stolen cars and terrorism suspects. Last year, the system read 37 million cars and got 91,000 hits, leading to 550 arrests.
The NYPD will find out by the end of May whether it will receive the federal money. New York officials have also discussed the possibility of creating a similar surveillance system for midtown Manhattan.
Law enforcement and transportation agencies already have about 1,000 cameras in the subways, with 2,100 scheduled to be in place by 2008. An additional 3,100 cameras are monitoring city housing projects.
Thousands of other cameras at private buildings and apartment towers also train lenses on New Yorkers and often provide valuable clues to cops.
But don’t expect the NYPD to install its cameras without battling the New York Civil Liberties Union. The watchdog group’s associate legal director, Chris Dunn, questioned the plan.
“Commissioner Kelly may be ready to launch us all into a surveillance society, but we believe cameras are not a cure-all for crime and terrorism,” Dunn said. “It is far from clear that cameras deter crime.”