Amid some controversy, the Citizens Association of Georgetown has begun installing private security cameras around the neighborhood in an effort to deter area crime.

Following discussions that began in June, CAG composed an installation plan and released a public statement about the project in December 2011. Since then, a pilot program featuring three cameras has been launched. Currently, only one of the cameras is operational.

According to CAG President Jennifer Altemus, camera installation was identified as an alternative safety measure to the reimbursable Metropolitan Police Department detail that the organization has been funding.

“The [Business Improvement District] had been talking about [cameras] for a while, and our reimbursable detail wasn’t working out. We had some extra money and decided to invest,” Altemus said.

Georgetown resident Bill Dean, CEO of the technology systems service provider M.C. Dean, Inc., provided the initial cameras for the project and the electronic resources for the installation. Further funding will be obtained from donations and CAG membership fees.

“We still are working on getting the first one up and running,” Altemus said. “But if they work well, we have the budget for 10 at this point.”

The CAG-owned cameras will supplement two security cameras that MPD already operates in Georgetown. In addition, a camera above Martin’s Tavern funded by residents of N Street and neighboring businesses has been operational for four years, according to an article in The Washington Post.

The cameras will be installed throughout the neighborhood and will aim to survey the main entrances and exits to the area. According to Chair of CAG’s Public Safety Committe Diane Colasanto, signs will be used to alert the public to the presence of the cameras.

The plan has faced opposition from area residents, who felt uninformed about the project and are wary of their privacy. The Georgetown Forum, a CAG-run online exchange among Georgetown citizens, revealed much disagreement about the merits of installing CAG-owned cameras around Georgetown.

Colasanto, refuted possible privacy concerns, stressing that while the camera footage can be reviewed by investigators after a crime has been committed to provide evidentiary support, the cameras will not be actively monitored.

“The main purpose we see is deterrence,” Colasanto said. “We have developed a set of procedures that have determined which images can be accessed and who can access them.”

Still, Tom Birch, a commissioner on Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E, questioned the effectiveness of surveillance cameras in combating crime.

“I would say that I have no quarrel with the utility of cameras after [a crime has been committed],” Birch said. “But you watch the nightly news and see these robbers on tape. People know that the camera is there, and that is my concern, that they are not having a preventive effect.”

In addition, Birch expressed concern that the presence of the cameras would create an undue sense of complacency.

“There would be the presumption that the cameras are having a preventive effect,” Birch said. “[People] wouldn’t lock their house doors [and] wouldn’t do all the things that police tell us to do to protect ourselves and prevent crime.”

Altemus disagreed.

“The primary goal is to be a deterrent to crime, and the secondary goal would be to help catch criminals after,” Altemus said. “I can’t imagine that people would feel complacent or safer from having a camera four blocks away.”

John Hedgecock, lieutenant for MPD’s public service area 206, which includes Georgetown, spoke in support of CAG’s plans to install cameras at the ANC’s September meeting.

“I’m a proponent,” he said. “Any tool I can have in my toolbox, I’ll take.”

To allay privacy concerns, Hedgecock added that footage from MPD’s cameras is also subject to strict privacy standards, and only officers with specific authorization are allowed access.

Gwendolyn Crump, director of MPD’s office of communications, confirmed the legality of the privately owned cameras.

“We support the efforts of residents and businesses to secure their own property,” Crump wrote in an email.

Two more cameras are scheduled for installation within the next month. CAG will decide in the coming year whether to purchase additional cameras and where to place them.

Colasanto is optimistic about the prospects for the new program.

“Everybody has been wanting a camera on their street,” said Colasanto. “Maybe now, people who come to Georgetown and commit crimes will think twice.”

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