By Steve Kelman

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Catching terrorists in London: Do we need more video surveillance in the United States?

Saturday morning, before any of the suspected terrorists on the two terror attempts in London and Glasgow were arrested on Sunday, the Financial Times ran a story with the headline, "Ring of Steel to Aid Bomb Inquiry." The story began: "The would-be car bombers who left their vehicles in London's West End...would have provided huge volumes of photographic and video evidence as to their identities." It turns out there are 52 entrances to downtown London where the license plate number, car appearance, and driver are photographed (the "ring of steel," originally established in response to IRA bombings in the 80's and 90's); there is also extensive CCTV, essentially monitoring all of downtown London.

Some will remember that the London subway bomber arrests in 2005 were made within days of the crime; this time, one day after the Financial Times ran its story, arrests were made as well.

London, by the way, was utterly crowded with people over the weekend, including massive numbers of young American tourists. When I went to my LSE office Sunday afternoon, crowds of students arriving for summer school were participating in group tour orientations on the "campus," which is literally in the middle of the city. This morning at Waterloo Station, there were mobs of police, some with machine guns.

My only encounter with mayhem over the weekend occurred late Sunday afternoon when I was doing my favorite activity in a city, walking around exploring neighborhoods. I was walking around the Stepney Green area in London's somewhat sketchy ("dodgy" the Brits would say) East End -- this was after all where Jack the Ripper hung out -- doing a walking visit to areas where Eastern European Jewish immigrants had come to London in the 1890s. Two kids, who I'd guess were about 8 years old, threw a plastic bag filled with some kind of pulpy juice at me and (after missing the first time) hit the back of my sports jacket. I emerged with a trip to the dry cleaner in prospect when I return to the States on Tuesday.

Readers: What do you think about the proposal that we need more extensive video surveillance in downtown Washington and New York, our cities most threatened by terrorism? Unless there's something going on I don't know about it, we seem to have a lot less of it than in London. My own vote would be "yes." Reactions and suggestions?

Posted by Steve Kelman on Jul 02, 2007 at 12:08 PM


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