STE Exclusive Roundtable: Keeping Cities Secure with Municipal Surveillance

Tips and insights from five experts in the field

O’Donnell: Chicago Police Cameras are well-marked and have blue lights which have a deterrent effect. Chicago command centers have software that integrates with our computer aided dispatch system, alerting monitoring officers that an incident is occurring near a camera. This allows an officer to gather intelligence and video evidence prior to a first responder’s arrival on the scene. We also use desk and light-duty officers to add extra eyes to areas that would ordinarily might not be viewed by police. They are able to conduct narcotics surveillance, look for other criminal or public safety issues in the area around the cameras. If illegal activity is observed, they are able to communicate with Police Tact and Patrol officers and identify the offender(s).

Cramer: The camera system has been effective in reducing crime and addressing public disorder and quality of life issues. The Camera Center is staffed with three operators viewing 140 cameras 24x7. That’s like deploying 140 Police Officers in a two square-mile area. Camera operators use OnSSI video analytics to assist with monitoring problem areas and late nights when activity slows down. When an operator observes something suspicious or criminal activity, a police officer is dispatched immediately to the scene to investigate.

Murphy: We created public/private partnerships with other entities that gave money for us to deploy cameras in strategic locations. We partnered with the school district, parking authority and the colleges that are downtown and the county government. They are partners in our wireless city initiative. We have more cameras located around these areas. These partnerships are a force multiplier and all of them pitch in to help with the monitoring costs.

Wardell: Being a convention and special events city, emphasis on crowd management, incident response, as well as crime prevention and interdiction are center to the City’s ability to support the desired events it attracts and hosts on a recurring (return business) basis. The camera system has served to be supplemental (more eyes) for the police, and instills confidence and the perception of safety to the local and visiting (special events and convention) population. Signage advertising the presence of a surveillance system is paramount to getting the most return on investment.

Morrow: Current technology we are using includes advanced early warning software and sensors. The video surveillance system can notify our command-and-control center if certain parameters are triggered. We can then dispatch a police officer to investigate.

How has the system increased safety and/or reduced crime in your particular deployment?

Murphy: Six years ago, there was a comprehensive study in our downtown area, and people said they felt unsafe. That has really changed now — the cameras are just one part of the project, but since the cameras have gone up, 26 new businesses have opened in the downtown area. We think the cameras have played a good role. The cameras have only been up for one year, so the crime statistics have not been analyzed, but I can tell you that we have caught everything from active drug deals to arsons in progress, officers being assaulted and an active shooter who was apprehended because of the cameras.

Cramer: Crime has dropped 45 percent in Downtown Dallas since 2007, when the cameras were installed. Other factors can impact the crime rate, but we have to give the camera system and monitoring staff a lot of credit for the drop in crime. One telling factoid is the camera system statistics vs. Police calls for service. Police responded to 13,977 downtown calls for service in 2010, and the Camera Center was involved in more than 50 percent of those calls.

O’Donnell: In 2010, 887 video surveillance-related arrests were made. A recent Urban Institute study of the Chicago cameras discovered that for every $1 of cost on surveillance, we received $4 in societal benefits — reduced crime, savings in court and corrections, less victim suffering, etc.

Wardell: It is hard to show a direct correlation between camera operations and crime reduction; however, during the first four years of camera operations, crime in the Atlanta Downtown area dropped 32 percent, and at a time of record-low police staffing. Clearly, a great deal of credit has to go to creative and aggressive policing; but, it was quite clear that the camera program being in place had a significant impact on safety and the perception of safety. In a recent survey by the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau to 60 different convention shows, more than 50 percent rated Atlanta (primarily Downtown since it is convention-related) above average or better. This is in contrast to previous years’ assessments, which was largely based on perceptions.