Secured city

How David Wardell, vice president of Operations and Public Safety for the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District, helped deploy a city-wide monitoring plan that has kept the area safe


Initially, monitoring of the cameras was performed by police officers on administrative status at the Downtown Precinct headquarters in the front reception area, which is visible when entering the facility, but also visible to pedestrians walking down the main corridor to the major special events and convention venues. This made the monitoring of surveillance apparent to the general public and visitors; however, technical training requirements and the shortage of police made it necessary for the Ambassador Force - ADID's public safety and hospitality force - to take over operations.

It was always the city's position to not take any "guns and badges" off the street to monitor cameras; but, during incident management or law enforcement active operations, police officers often engage in monitoring activity with the Ambassadors.
Additionally, public advisory signage was installed by the city in the vicinity of each camera to advise the general public of 24-hour surveillance by the police department, but also to serve as a deterrent.

Securing Community Buy-in

Once Operation Shield was implemented with a heavy marketing and public relations campaign, the city's hospitality and convention community (Atlanta Convention and Visitor's Bureau) could market having such a capability.

When we started this project, it was a positive discriminator to have a program, and it has evolved into the current stance that it is a negative discriminator not to have a viable surveillance program. One of the unique attributes of our program is the dedicated police response.

Our efforts turned to promoting the program and allowing it to grow by integrating private-sector camera systems. Cameras monitored at the Downtown Precinct can also be simultaneously monitored at other levels of police command-and-control for event or incident management, in particular the 9-1-1 Center and the Police Joint Operations Center. In short, each department invested in their respective proprietary program and also reaped the benefits of the consolidated system's capabilities.

The business community is still strongly supportive of the program, with all still growing and expanding their programs in a mostly coordinated effort. Those facilities with Web-based camera systems offer the Downtown surveillance project an immediate resource (access and use of cameras) at no cost.

Justifying TCO and Proving ROI

With the program up and running for more than three years now, we have been able to stay in constant dialogue with state and federal authorities who recognize the viability of our program. The city has continued to use grant programs to fund the wireless signal service, and are in the process of applying other funding sources to advance the program. This comes in conjunction with the new construction and activation of a Public Safety facility and 9-1-1 Center.

We are constantly looking to outside funding sources to support the overall program, such as the Department of Homeland Security's Regional Resiliency Assessment Program (RRAP) and Urban Area Security initiative (UASI); and the police department's opportunities through city budgets, federal and state grants, and alternative resources.

With the amount of partners involved in our program, no single entity shoulders an imbalanced proportion of the program - but all partners enjoy the same benefit.

Measuring the success of the camera program by the number of arrests is not the most realistic or effective metric for proving ROI. First of all, potential perpetrators do not tell you what crimes or activity you prevented - and day-to-day arrests are often for minor offenses.

It could be compared to corporate security mitigation decisions on whether to spend $200,000 on surveillance systems to protect $5,000 worth of property. The intended impact of the security system goes much deeper - deterrence; the confidence it instills; response capability; crime prevention; and especially intervention to mitigate specific problem areas.

But the eye-opening metric is the significant crime reduction in Part 1 Crimes and nuisance crimes mentioned earlier. The reduction in crime happened at a time when crime was up across the state and police staffing was low. Although a direct correlation cannot be assigned, clearly, the surveillance has played a major role and served as a catalyst for public agencies and private security to stay engaged.