On Tuesday, a cyclist on the Metropolitan Branch Trail was senselessly beaten by about 15 juveniles, apparently just for kicks—-they stole nothing. This raises the question, of course, of what the city’s doing to prevent crimes like these. One intended deterrent is the security cameras set up by the District Department of Transportation along the trail in 2010. But these cameras have proven to be seriously flawed.

How flawed? Let’s count the ways:

1. According to DDOT spokeswoman Monica Hernandez, the crime took place within the range of one of the three cameras currently installed (two new ones are coming under the New York Avenue bridge). But that camera wasn’t working, and “hadn’t been working for a while,” says Hernandez. DDOT is now repairing the camera.

2. Even when the cameras do work, they won’t work very well at night. That’s because they’re solar-powered, which causes them to have limited visibility at night, according to Hernandez. Although Tuesday’s beating took place during daylight, crimes have been known to occur at night from time to time.

3. There’s no one actively monitoring the cameras, making it unlikely that they could be used to react quickly to crimes or track down the perpetrators before they’ve long fled the scene. This, Hernandez says, is intentional. “The cameras were installed as a deterrent,” she says. “We’re not in the security business, so we don’t have someone actively monitoring the feed.”

Clearly, the cameras haven’t been all that effective as a deterrent, nor are they effective as a means of tracking down criminals. Adding more cameras may help, but only if they work, which, apparently, is a big if.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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