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Crime-busting cameras: a US-city experiment

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Sitting in Bellingham Square, hub of this city just north of Boston, Philip Quaglione remembers when a surveillance camera hung here at Washington and Broadway.

Its pole was knocked down several years ago, he says, either accidentally or by someone who didn't like the unblinking eye.

Now, surveillance cameras are coming back. In mid-July, Chelsea, Mass., hopes to throw the switch on a quarter-million-dollar system of 27 digital cameras with the capacity to monitor and record activity in any of its public spaces, says Jay Ash, city manager. His hope: that the system, which has cut crime in Chicago, will do the same in this high-crime city of 36,000 packed into less than two square miles.

Other small cities have similar aims. Officials in Schenectady, N.Y., reportedly plan to have eight cameras trained on the city's main commercial zone by fall. State funds will be used.

Chelsea's ally is the US government, which will add seven more cameras in a shared-feeds arrangement that has city officials encouraged, civil libertarians concerned, and some residents wondering how electronic policing and a federal presence will affect daily life.

The federal government is involved because a few Chelsea landmarks have special post-Sept. 11 significance. The Tobin Bridge, a major gateway into Boston, plants its northern footings here. Tanks of liquefied natural gas huddle down by the Mystic River.

Anika Hobbs, helping a friend load a car on Winnisimmet Street, says new cameras will do little to make her feel safer from terrorism. While she supports efforts to curb crime, Ms. Hobbs calls the use of terrorism concerns as a reason to boost surveillance "an excuse, especially in a city like Chelsea," with its high minority population.

Others differ. "The more [monitoring] the better," says David Flores, a teen who points to a spot a half-block away where he says a fatal stabbing occurred earlier this month.

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