Since the announcement, much of the Nagin administration's crime camera program has been cloaked in secrecy. City Council members and citizens seeking basic information about the program, such as contracts, have been rebuffed.
As a City Council hearing about the matter began Tuesday morning, the city's technology officer, who is in charge of camera deployment, was nowhere to be found. A note sent to the head of the Public Works committee stated that Anthony Jones -- who had canceled several previously scheduled appearances -- was traveling.
That left two attendees, a police officer and an associate tasked with monitoring the program, to give council members the bad news: Right now, the city has "about 85 cameras that work most of the time."
The announcement incensed some council members.
"I have documented evidence that over 200 cameras would be installed," Councilwoman Stacy Head said. "The press releases are wearing me out. I want to know the truth."
More than 250 cameras have been installed, but only about 85 are operable. In fact, the number of crime cameras working in New Orleans today is about the same as it was pre-Katrina.
Spokespeople for the Nagin administration did not return requests for comment.
Meanwhile, violent crime is occurring under inoperable cameras.
Again: "Cops not cameras" is the political hay that can be made here. Citizens who are paying exorbitant traffic camera fines won't tolerate excuses about inoperable crime cameras during a surge in violent crime. In my view, this tension between extremely efficient traffic camera collections and extremely lax crime camera performance is ripe for political exploitation. I hope someone makes this an issue, because it
1) showcases this secretive administration's bungled priorities and
2) may curtail some of the rampant surveillance overreach that masquerades under the rubric of "security".
Stacy Head should zealously pursue the truth about these camera contracts. Then she should publicly berate whoever is responsible, just as if they had denied her a chair at Jazzfest.
Update: In the comments, Celcus helpfully points us to this T-P article from today's paper:
Three New Orleans City Council members on Tuesday called for an investigation into Mayor Ray Nagin's office of technology and sought to freeze the office's budget in the latest skirmish between two branches of government over access to records and accountability questions.
"In typical fashion, the administration provided us with half-truths and misinformation," [Councilmember Stacy] Head said. "We have no idea how much money we spent on crime cameras, installation and maintenance in 2007 and 2008. That is an embarrassment."
After voicing their displeasure, Head, [Councilmember Shelly] Midura and [Councilmember] Jackie Clarkson approved a motion calling on the full council to launch a "formal investigation" and move the entire technology office budget, except for salaries, into a reserve account. Such an investigation could prompt the council to use its subpoena power to force the Nagin administration to hand over public records.
You go, girls!
Update #2: Always ahead of the curve, the American Zombie has more.