Philadelphia D.A. Calls for Cameras in City's Hot Spots

Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham called for the use of surveillance cameras in high-crime areas as she declared that she was running for a fourth full term as the city's top prosecutor.

"We need cameras all over the city in the hot spots," Abraham said, adding that such a system would enable law enforcement to trace gunfire.

It was a signal that Abraham, who embraces her "Tough Cookie" nickname, was not about to back off her hard line on crime. She celebrated her 64th birthday with a pep rally in the Mayor's Reception Room at City Hall that featured testimonials from much of the city's Democratic leadership.

Abraham faces a challenge in the May 17 Democratic primary from a former assistant, Seth Williams, who argues that she has run an inefficient and unimaginative war on crime. Williams wants to reorganize the office to station prosecutors in neighborhood police districts.

"I have unbounded energy," Abraham said. "No one will be able to see my feet."

She stressed her office's record of attacking community problems, including the closing of "nuisance bars" and deploying a special squad to deal with quality-of-life crimes.

Several community leaders praised Abraham for these efforts. Paul "Earthquake" Moore, a former boxer who works with youths in Southwest Philadelphia, gave her a bear hug.

"There's nothing he [Williams] can tell me about community prosecution," Abraham told reporters. "I invented it for Philadelphia."

Saying that there is more to do, Abraham promised to lobby the legislature to toughen penalties for witness intimidation and also proposed video surveillance. She later told reporters she had not outlined a specific proposal for the cameras, adding that such use would probably require legislation.

But she defended the idea.

"You can't tell me that a terrorist has the right to be secure from surveillance, and you can't tell me that urban terrorists on the city streets of Philadelphia have the right of privacy when they're ganging up on the corner selling drugs and shooting at each other or at our children," Abraham said. "No way."

The American Civil Liberties Union pointed out that surveillance cameras would bring a host of sticky issues, including whether the images would be subpoenaed in divorces and civil lawsuits over car accidents.

"Citizens would be better served by having greater police presence in high-crime areas," ACLU legislative director Larry Frankel said.

Since taking office in May 1991, Abraham received her only serious opposition in the 2001 primary, when former City Commissioner Alex Talmadge Jr. won 41 percent of the vote. He capitalized on anger among black community leaders who criticized Abraham's staunch support for the death penalty. Some black leaders also were upset with Abraham for blocking the 1998 nomination of Judge Frederica Massiah-Jackson to the federal bench.

This time around, Abraham has support in areas of the city where Talmadge ran well.

City Councilwoman Marian B. Tasco, also the Democratic leader of the 50th Ward, the largest black ward in the city, supported Talmadge four years ago but backed Abraham yesterday. Abraham has responded to community concerns about nuisance groceries in the ward, Tasco said.

"We will certainly do what the mighty 50th always does: produce good votes," Tasco said.

In addition to political support, Abraham starts off with a money advantage. She had $278,194 on hand as of Dec. 31, according to campaign-finance reports filed yesterday. Abraham raised $207,957 last year, the reports said.

Williams, who declared his candidacy two weeks ago, had $3,949 at the end of 2004, his report showed. He raised $34,701 during the year but spent most of it laying the groundwork for his candidacy, the report said.

He said he has since raised at least $15,000, which would mean that Williams has already pulled in more money than Talmadge did in the 2001 campaign.

"Onward and upward, no reverse," Williams said.