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Eye Spies

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By David Greenwald, Photos by Mark Berndt

Published Jul 1, 2006 12:00 AM


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TILT YOUR HEAD UP AND LOOK toward the rooftops as you walk along the streets in any major city in America — Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Baltimore, San Francisco — and you will see cameras sprouting like bromeliads from the sides of buildings or mounted high up on poles.

In Washington, D.C., four windows atop the Washington Monument have been reconfigured as portals through which cameras peer down on the Mall. Both the Freedom Trail in Boston and Philadelphia's Independence Mall are amply wired with surveillance cameras. In Los Angeles, cameras keep watch over the streets of downtown's historic core, the pathways of MacArthur Park and Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, and there are plans to expand the network throughout the city, with a total of 1,500 to 2,000 cameras.

Couple all those cop cams with the thousands upon thousands of cameras operated by other government agencies such as transportation and housing authorities, and the number of surveillance cameras out there is staggering. One estimate put it at 1.5 million nationwide.

It's not just the big cities, either. In Dillingham, Alaska, 80 cameras watch over a community of 2,400 people, one camera for every 30 residents. Bellows Falls, Vt., population 3,000, has 16 cameras. Preston, Md., with 573 residents, has two cops and five cameras. The tiny community of Sanborn, Minn., has no school, no grocery store and no traffic light, but it does have nine video surveillance cameras watching over its 418 citizens, according to an AP story that ran in February.

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