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Boston Marathon leverages surveillance for security




As Boston gears up for the 120th running of the Boston Marathon, the question of security looms heavily in the wake of the recent Brussels bombings.

Surveillance, both of public and private property, gave investigators into the Boston Bombings of 2013 ample material leading to identify the Tsarnaev brothers as the culprits. Investigators used footage from Boston city surveillance cameras, personal cell phone videos of the event and private footage from retail stores to identify Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tzarnaev as suspects. The manhunt that ensued was complimented by video surveillance, eventually leading to the capture of Dzokhar Tzarnaev.

However, some are wary of the amount of surveillance footage that investigators had to work with. The marathon made for an inviting target, drawing a huge crowd into a confined space at the finish line. This also means that it was one of the most recorded spaces on Earth, albeit in a disorganized way. The amount of footage that was available to use for the investigation was extremely useful in closing the case, but there are some who cite this as a violation of Fourth Amendment rights. In the case of the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013, there is no question that surveillance footage aided police and investigators in a way that was within constitutional rights. However, monitoring routine surveillance footage constantly to search for suspicious activity is becoming more common. The Fourth Amendment was designed to avoid “general warrants” such as this.

But there is the opportunity for private businesses to partner with law enforcement in the event of a massacre such as the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Law enforcement can employ the use of a system that combines video surveillance footage from both public cameras and private cameras in a single viewing platform, simplifying surveillance across cities. The advantage of using this system is greater footage from differing sources, just like a pre-made version of the strategy that the investigators of the 2013 bombings leveraged.

As this year’s Boston Marathon approaches in the wake of the brutal attacks on Brussels March 22, Boston Police Commissioner William Evans will once again forgo running the marathon to focus on event security. Although there is no specific threat of attack, Boston will be employing a greater use of video surveillance, uniformed and undercover officers, and numerous checkpoints for spectators to ensure the safety of both participants and spectators.