On my visit to the control room, I spoke with one of the guys doing the watching. Chris Selle is not a cop, but he's run video surveillance systems for thirteen years. One of his screens lists calls logged into the department's computer-dispatch system; he'll look at the address, and if there's a camera close by, he'll pull it up on screen. "It can be difficult if there are several calls at one time," he says. "The priority is what's most important, so you take that."

During Selle's second month on the job, a passerby called 911 about a domestic-violence dispute on the street. Selle found the location and zoomed in on a man beating his wife with a chain attached to his wallet. By the time officers got to the scene, the fight was over and the woman said she didn't want to press charges. But the man was arrested anyway, and when he saw the surveillance video, he pleaded guilty.

That's one of the ways the cameras help improve law enforcement, Martinez says. "It isn't some Orwellian type of product," he explains. "You look at all the cameras in the area. The average American is on camera at least fifteen times a day. You go to retail stores and there are cameras there. People have cameras on their phones. Everywhere you go, there are cameras."

Lieutenant Ernie Martinez thinks HALO will bring the DPD into the future.
Lieutenant Ernie Martinez thinks HALO will bring the DPD into the future.

Details

For pictures and a map of Denver's HALO surveillance system, go to the Latest Word blog. Contact the author at jared.jacangmaher.com.

These three cameras will soon go somewhere else. Police commanders and neighborhood groups are clamoring to get HALO out on the streets, and Martinez hopes to be redeploying cameras around the city over the next two months.

For privacy advocates, surveillance projects like HALO are just one more slip down the slope to us all becoming Tom Cruise in Minority Report. "People often behave differently when they think they're being watched — especially if they're engaged in something like a protest," says the ACLU's Calabrese. "For police, it has led to voyeurism and racial profiling, where minorities end up being the ones having the cameras actually zoomed in on them."

"We have every possible control to ensure that first- and fourth-amendment rights are not violated," says Martinez.

I watch the streetlights change from green to red. A skinny fox emerges from behind a corner and skitters past my car. I look into the black domes of the HALO cameras and wonder if there's a warm body behind them in the control room right now. I wonder if they've zoomed in on me, a vaguely ethnic man with an overgrown beard, a man sitting alone in his car staring at surveillance cameras across from police headquarters.

I'd probably watch me, too.

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