Special Report: Government Security - Sharing Video with Police

Law enforcement across the country is devising formal programs to ask businesses, public entities and residents to share surveillance footage


The swift and successful investigation of the terrorist attack during the Boston Marathon shined a bright light on the value of both public and private-sector video when shared with police.

It’s common knowledge that police regularly ask public organizations, businesses and individuals to share video that might help in the investigation of a crime; however, in recent years, police requests for video have grown into formal programs.

Police departments in Philadelphia, Elgin, Ill., San Ramon, Calif., and Ventura, Calif., for example, all have programs that ask organizations and individuals to register surveillance cameras. The police then map the cameras and consult a detailed surveillance map when a crime is committed. Some cities — Atlantic City and Atlanta, for example — have automated the process and can tap into cameras online from command centers.

 

Registering and Mapping Cameras in Ventura, Calif.

Through its Video Camera Community Partnership Program, the Ventura Police Department asks businesses and residents to register cameras that record activity in public areas. “We enter the address, the number of cameras and the direction they are facing into CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch),” says Ventura PD Field Operations Commander Tim Turner. “We also estimate the size of the area the camera or cameras can cover.”

When a call comes in, the CAD system scans the registered cameras, Turner explains. If the system finds cameras that cover the location of the call, a flag with an address pops up on the screen in the vehicle of the responding officer, who will then contact the owners of the cameras by phone, e-mail or in person.

For less serious crimes, officers ask the camera owners to review the video before and after the time the call came in and let them know if anything that might be useful. If there is useful video, the officer asks for or makes a DVD copy to retain as evidence. “For serious crimes like murder, we will review the video immediately and make a copy if it has evidentiary value,” Turner says.

Video that is incompatible with the police department’s system is not much of a problem. “We have a multiplexer here that reads different video formats,” Turner says. “If the multiplexer can’t read a video format, we’ll go back to the owner and watch the video there and record from the screen. In some cases, we might ask our High Tech Task Force to reformat the video for our system.”

The Ventura Police Department has also knitted together a network of city-owned cameras watching areas of the city as well as cameras from middle schools and high schools. The school installations include exterior cameras and interior cameras in the lobbies and large common areas, such as cafeterias and gymnasiums. The system was not designed to intrude — it was designed to help police in the event of a dangerous emergency such as an active shooter.

Video from city and school cameras feeds into the transportation center in the police station where it can be monitored. The system includes cameras from several manufacturers. To view it at the police monitoring station, something has to convert it. For that, the police use a VidSys Physical Security Information Management (PSIM) system that integrates security devices and operational data into a single system. “We have interfaces written between the system and all of the different cameras,” Turner says.

 

Casinos that Share

In Atlantic City, 13 casinos started sharing video surveillance and communication systems with the police last year, even though each casino’s systems differ greatly from the others. An interoperability technology from Mutualink ties everything together. “There were 13 different video systems, 13 different radio systems and 13 different telephone systems,” explains Robert Wright, CPP, Mutualink’s business development director. “Our technology bridges each casino’s systems to make them available to the police.”

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