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Security cameras patrol Big Easy's dangerous areas
NEW ORLEANS — The intent was obvious. The man aimed an AK47 at the newly installed crime camera and fired away. "All it did was get him arrested," chuckled New Orleans' chief technology officer Greg Meffert. "The camera immediately notified the police and tracked him until he was caught."

New Orleans is installing a citywide security system with state-of-the-art cameras that can monitor an eight-block area around each one, as well as communicate with police, track crime in the area and provide proof in court.

Don't call it Big Brother, however. City officials insist it's much more like the old days when cops walked a beat than like government spying.

The cameras were originally designed to provide evidence in court when witnesses were too intimidated to testify. The high resolution produces recognizable images in all light levels, and the cameras can read a license plate up to 400 feet away.

The first cameras went into operation in October. As the technician was demonstrating the first one to police, they thought they would make their first case.

"The first thing we saw was a drug dealer standing on the corner talking to another dealer," Capt. Anthony Cannatella said. "He had a handful of heroin bags in one hand and a baby in the other."

The police weren't able to catch him. In fact, they have not yet made a case based on the imagery provided by the cameras. They feel they will, however. They also feel the cameras are helping in other ways.

"I think they'll deter crime," Cannatella said. "I think they also disperse drug dealers and that's a big thing right there."

The city is in the first phase of installing the cameras. Eventually there will be more than 1,000. The first 240 have been installed, at a cost of $4.5 million.

The city and the supplier have worked out a number of glitches — including finding ways to make them bulletproof, resistant to paintballs and jam-proof.

The city's Office of Homeland Security contributed $1 million. It will use the cameras to monitor potential terrorist targets, including the Mississippi River levees and bridges, the port, railroads, airports, the water plants, the power grid and the Superdome.

"It's not the end-all and be-all," said Col. Terry J. Ebbert, director of homeland security for New Orleans. "But it does provide another layer of security."

The city has already begun adding them in spots where crowds will congregate for Mardi Gras, the parade routes and French Quarter.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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