Overcoming Technical, Legal Hurdles in Municipal Surveillance

Overcoming Technical, Legal Hurdles in Municipal Surveillance

Designing and installing a municipal surveillance network can be a monumental challenge even for the most seasoned systems integrators. Not only are there the obvious technical challenges—such as running cable, setting up poles, configuring camera hardware and software—there are also numerous policies that must also be navigated by the chosen contractor and system stakeholders.

However, coordinating with the other municipal agencies involved in the physical installation can prove to be a big challenge. This was the case for Tele-Tector of Maryland Inc., the integrator responsible for the installation and maintenance of Baltimore’s CitiWatch program.

Tele-Tector President David Spilman said that his firm had to work with numerous city entities to get the city’s camera network up and running, including the Department of Transportation, the Department of Public Works and Baltimore Gas and Electric.

“That’s really the toughest part because you’re doing underground cabling work, you’re replacing poles, you’re installing new poles, you’re installing new fiber and/or using existing fiber and also working with the city’s IT department to find out exactly what cable goes where and what is usable and not usable,” Spilman explained.


Camera state of affairs

One of the most robust municipal surveillance networks in the country, the CitiWatch program was launched in 2005 by former Mayor Martin O’Malley with an initial deployment of 50 cameras. The program now integrates more than 500 cameras from across the city into the Criminal Intelligence Watch Center located inside Baltimore Police Department headquarters. Though budget constraints and meeting deadlines can be hard on some integrators who work on citywide surveillance initiatives, Spilman said that the toughest issue Tele-Tector faced when they started work on the system eight years ago was a lack of experience working on a large-scale city project of this scope.

“Obviously, in the beginning, it was cutting our teeth and learning how long it takes to do something,” he said. “The coordination of ordering new poles, that’s a big deal because it could take between eight to 12 weeks on a project someone may want in 30 days and obviously you just can’t make that challenge. It’s just the coordination internally. Now, it’s difficult, but what we’ve learned over the years makes our job much easier.”

“It’s the different agencies you’ve got to deal with and getting everybody lined up in a timely fashion where you can keep rolling and not get held up by somebody,” added Tele-Tector Project Manager Jeff Wilks.

Spilman said there have also been some technological challenges that the company has had to deal with through the years, including how to best utilize wireless technology and things that could potentially interfere with a camera’s line of sight.

“When a tree is three-feet tall it turns into 20-feet tall. Each installation, even in the beginning, was a pretty well thought and planned out process that has gone relatively smoothly. It’s the continuity of the people involved,” he said.

Though they don’t engage in any political or legal battles concerning CitiWatch, Spilman said that they do meet regularly with city officials to discuss the status of installations and any other potential concerns they may have.


Integrator input into specifications

“We work directly with the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology and we have meetings with them once a week at city hall to discuss where we are with current installations, where we are with current maintenance of the existing system and where we are with possible new locations. As far as complaints from citizens or requests from citizens, that’s really taken care of by the city,” Spilman said. “We have met with different community groups. We have talked with them if they request us to speak with them to explain disruptions if there are any, which typically there are not, and any concerns we may have to address, but that is unusual.”

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