On more than just local government

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

What a lovely couple

George and Abdullah will be out looking for tent furniture soon.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Dodging bullets

During a visit to New Orleans last week, a city official told me in one succinct sentence what is the primary civic concern. “We have,” he told me, “one homicide a day.”

In 2002, a new Mayor, C. Ray Nagin, was elected in a surprise victory over the old establishment. In fact, he was the first person in nearly 60 years elected to the office that had not held a previous elected position. He immediately began a criminal and administrative probe of the City’s workforce which resulted in the arrest of 84 city workers and the restructuring of the Utilities Department. A new world had come to the Big Easy.

Now, Mayor Nagin is bringing his understanding of technology (he was the VP and general manager of Cox Communications in Louisiana prior to his election) to law enforcement. Beginning in the highest crime district in the City, high definition closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras are being deployed which will enable the police to monitor its most troublesome streets.

The camera feeds are available to a specified group of users and can be monitored from any computer connected to the Internet. Therefore, any authorized user is no more than the closest computer away from being able to see, in real time, what is going on throughout that district.

The Mayor is a regular user, taking some time each day to switch from camera to camera to see what is going on. He has, in fact, called the Chief of Police to tell him of some “unusual” activity he has observed. In one case, a police unit was dispatched and a drug deal was caught in the works.

The use of technology is even more important to New Orleans than it might be in other places since about 90% of the felony arrests they make fail for the lack of a witness willing to testify about an event. The introduction of CCTV provides the police with “witnesses that are not able to be intimidated.” As a result, a growing number of guilty pleas are being entered as the bad guys see what evidence the police have against them.

Technology does not replace good police work. It also does not replace the impact of a person on patrol. However, it does provide public safety with a tool that can help determine how limited resources are most effectively deployed, how criminals get taken off the street quickly and, as important, how a city dependent on tourism can say to the people visiting them that they will have a safe trip.

New Orleans is a city of extraordinary appeal. For me, the ideal trip there involves two dinners in their fine restaurants and a breakfast of beignets at the Café du Monde. The French Quarter is unique to the United States for its charm and its sense of historical place.

Now, this “Old World” city has become a leader in the new world of technology. Its residents and its visitors will be all the better off for it.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Check the rocker panels

So, it seems that when the FBI was working the case of Terry Nichols, (you remember, one of the two guys we found guilty of the Oklahoma City bombing), they didn't bother to check the nooks and crannies of his house. A dozen years later, they went back and, lo and behold, they found enough explosives to do another large job.

Luckily, it seems, no one else knew about this cache. Had they known, they could easily have gone in and supplied themselves for another act of domestic terrorism. And does anybody get fired. Oh, no. The FBI asks for MORE power under the a new Patriot Act.

Are we that gullible? Is Congress so cowed by the right winger that they don't see that the agency needs fixing before it should be given more power?