“Every day when I drive to work, I pass a stoplight with a camera on top of it. I want to know what that camera is for, and why? Who is watching me at the other end?” Dr. David Seitsinger asked The City Sentinel in a voicemail recording.
In 2003 the Closed Circuit Television, or CCTV project began in the downtown and Bricktown areas of Oklahoma City. Soon surveillance cameras were installed in the center of our city, placed atop stop lights at important and busy intersections.
The CCTV project is paid for by grants provided to the state by the Department of Homeland Security.
And now the cameras stand, silently monitoring and recording all who pass, through a glass lens, darkly. But why?
Captain Patrick Stewart of the Oklahoma Police Department pulled up and dictated the standard operating procedure of the CCTV Project to The City Sentinel.
“The purpose of the close circuit television CCTV project, is to enhance our ability to protect critical infrastructure sites, and provide for the safety for those attending special events in venue areas. It is also used in detection of potential criminal activity,” Stewart said.
“If there is an event that is controversial, we can use those cameras live, to look for potential problems. Those cameras also record, and we can go back and mine the video at any time for evidence,” Stewart said.
He said they also act as a deterrent against street level crime.
Major Ed Hill of the OKPD heads the uniformed support division that covers emergency services in the downtown area.
Hill said he handles a lot of local homeland security issues and oversees the federal grants that manage the CCTV Project.
“The potential for mass causalities in American city’s came to light after 9-11. And after 9-11, the feds poured a lot of money into grants to protect our homeland security,” Hill said.
“You see a lot of high profile areas with a great concentration of people in the downtown area. If there was a terrorist attack at say the Ford Center, the Cox Center, or the Ballpark, well there are thousands of people downtown at a variety of different special events, any given night,” said Hill.
Critical infrastructure sites include the police headquarters, city hall, government buildings, power stations and special event locations.
There is also a Federal Reserve Bank branch in the vicinity.
“The cameras protect big targets, that if attacked, could greatly affect the quality of life of our American citizens,” said Hill.
Besides the targets mentioned, Kim Carter, a program manager for the Dept. of Homeland Security alluded to the possibility that CCTV is monitoring more than meets the public eye.
“There could be things housed in those buildings downtown that are not public knowledge. So I don’t think it’s a good idea to talk about what important locations to the city’s infrastructure these cameras are monitoring,” said Carter.
Hill said that so far, there have been very few people expressing concern about these cameras violating their rights as citizens. He thinks this is due to the ubiquitous nature cameras and the American public’s familiarity with their actions being recorded.
“You can’t go through a McDonald’s drive-thru to get a cheeseburger without being on CCTV. And more and more people are getting CCTV cameras installed in their private residences,” he said.
Hill said so far the cameras have revealed that many people were innocent of criminal accusations.
“We’ve had several reported rapes and abductions in the downtown area, and the cameras tell a different story, where the supposed victim seemed to be a willing participant,” he said. “The last one was a reported robbery, where the cameras disproved what the victim was alleging.”
An Internet search brings up nothing in regards to the CCTV Project of Oklahoma City, except a Proposed Five-Year Capitol Improvement Plan for 2011-2015, which mentions improving the security surveillance of the airport.
“We don’t have any public information about the cameras out there,” said Kristy Yeager, the public information officer for the City of Oklahoma City.
“But I know they are monitored by police and they are not giving tickets to people based on that footage,” Yeager said.
She clarified that in other locations, away from the central hub of the city, there are similar devices, but they aren’t cameras.
Public works has installed vehicle counters which are scattered around the city. These devices sit atop traffic lights and they could be misconstrued as security cameras, but are only used to count cars and trigger traffic lights.
The future will bring more Homeland Security surveillance to the city.
“We look to continue to add cameras around other areas as we have the funding to do so,” said Hill.