Thursday's Washington Post brings us another example of unintended consequences. The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, gave birth to Homeland Security, which gave money to small towns to install surveillance cameras. Just what we needed:
Small-town surveillance would seem to offer only a whole lot more nothing. Still, some smaller police departments have been drawn in: An informal search turned up 17 with 100 or fewer officers that either had a surveillance system or plans to put one up. All but two of these departments had either created or expanded their system since 2001.
They come as big as the department in Salisbury, Md., with 88 officers, which plans to put up seven cameras this year. The smallest included the Hoopa Valley Tribal Police in Northern California, where the nine-member force often has no officer on duty from 4 to 8 a.m.
In several cases, funding to buy cameras appears to have come from the federal government, either for community policing or homeland security.
On Maryland's Eastern Shore, for example, Ridgely Police Chief Merl Evans got a homeland security grant, funneled through the state, to pay for five cameras apiece in Ridgely, population 1,300, and Preston, population 573. The cameras went up on water towers, at water-treatment plants and in the two small downtowns.
"It was difficult to be able to find something to use the money for," said Evans, who is also temporary chief in Preston. He said because the grants needed to be used on "target hardening" -- protecting infrastructure -- "the cameras fit in real nice."
Spokesmen for the departments of Justice and Homeland Security said they were unable to compile information about how many small-town camera programs the agencies had funded, or how much had been spent.