The State of Public Video Surveillance Systems

A quick search of Internet news sources shows almost daily articles from the United Kingdom (U.K.) crediting public video surveillance systems with helping to capture murderers, shoplifters or even knife-wielding gangs accused of attacking...


A quick search of Internet news sources shows almost daily articles from the United Kingdom (U.K.) crediting public video surveillance systems with helping to capture murderers, shoplifters or even knife-wielding gangs accused of attacking residents.

There are an estimated 4.2 million public surveillance cameras in the U.K.   Some of those cameras are widely known to have helped authorities there round up suspects in the 2005 London subway bombings.

That case in particular caught the attention of officials in the U.S.   The number of cities planning public video surveillance systems is growing from the newfound attention to the technology and its success in capturing criminals.   New York City wants a $90 million system in place through lower Manhattan by the end of the decade.   In August, the mayor of Newark , N.J. announced plans for 120 public surveillance cameras in his city following the execution-style murders of three teenagers at an elementary school.   The California city of Richmond , located across the bay from San Francisco , is installing a 113-camera system at a cost of about $4 million.

Other cities actively involved in the use or testing of public surveillance cameras include Chicago , Washington , D.C., San Francisco and Atlanta .   Baltimore law enforcement officials said their 500-camera system has reduced crime by 17 percent in monitored areas.   And it is not just big cities taking a bite out of crime with video.   Cities such as Petaluma and Corona , Calif. , Lake Wales , Fla. Omaha, Neb., and Rochester , N.Y. are installing systems, some with only a few cameras.

These systems are not without controversy.   Many civil libertarians object to the idea that law-abiding citizens can be monitored as they go about their business in public places.   Also, there is evidence that while a surveillance system can lower crime in one neighborhood, it may simply displace it to another area without the technology of surveillance.

And there is debate about the true ability of the systems to stop crime.   For example, the millions of cameras in the U.K. did not stop the subway bombings or car bombings in London and Scotland .   A recent British government report found that while video surveillance accounts for nearly 75 percent of the country's crime prevention spending, the cameras have “no effect on violent crimes.”

Whether they are proven effective or not, millions of federal, state and local dollars are being spent now and even more will be spent over the next few years.   And not all of it is going to the big national system integrators.   There are plenty of opportunities available for an informed and prepared local integrator or dealer to claim a share in this ever-growing market.

The key is being ready to bid on a system when the time comes.   Read the local newspaper to stay informed and network with law enforcement contacts in the community. Also, be aware that not all public video surveillance systems originate at the government level.   Many are planned and funded by the Chambers of Commerce, merchant's organizations and housing developments.

Learn what it takes to install a system and bid the job fairly so you can have a piece of this growing discipline while providing law enforcement with another tool to help solve crimes at schools, cities and neighborhoods.