Municipal surveillance in the spotlight at Secured Cities

City administrators, technology vendors and law enforcement officials from across the nation gathered last week at the Secured Cities conference in Baltimore, Md., to network with peers and learn about the latest trends impacting municipal surveillance projects.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Fredrick H. Bealefeld III welcomed attendees to the city and kicked off the conference with some opening remarks.

Bealefeld said that the city has made an investment in surveillance cameras and the technology has started to pay dividends with violence levels reaching a 30-year low. Baltimore's CitiWatch program is one of the most robust municipal surveillance networks in the country, featuring more than 530 cameras that are monitored around-the-clock, 365 days a year. Bealefeld cautioned, however, that cameras alone cannot cure all of a city's ills.

"The cameras are not a panacea," he said. "They are a component of your overall program."

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who delivered the keynote presentation at the event, said that the city has hired 300 additional police officers during a time in which other municipalities in the U.S. are cutting public safety.

"Our economy might be slipping, but we weren't going to let public safety slip as well," she explained.

Rawlings-Blake said that the CitiWatch program serves as an excellent example of how cameras can be used as a force multiplier. While many fear the implementation of new technologies will mean the replacement of people, the mayor said that the case is exactly the opposite with regards to cameras.

"By no means do we believe cameras can replace police officers, but they can serve as extra eyes," she said. "This is not a replacement. This is an enhancement."

Surveillance cameras are also cost-effective, according to Rawlings-Blake, who said that the deployment of cameras in Baltimore has been worth $1 million in cost savings per year.

"You can't sell it to any jurisdiction without it being cost-effective," she said.

With cities across the country feeling the effects of a down economy, Bealefeld said that role of cameras will only grow in prominence.

"Costs in America are a factor in everything we do. How you create a vision and path for the future to tap into government funds is critical," he said.

Bealefeld added that cities must also think about how they will be using camera systems in the future. In Baltimore, Bealefeld said that there are already plans to integrate facial and license plate recognition systems into the CitiWatch program.

"We're trying to make our neighborhoods safer. That's really our goal," he concluded.

In addition to showcasing the success of Baltimore's CitiWatch program, Secured Cities also featured numerous educational tracks designed to inform city leaders and law enforcement officials about the technical and operational aspects of implementing a municipal surveillance network.

Developing a CCTV policy

One of the most important, but perhaps most overlooked element of a municipal surveillance project is developing a comprehensive policy. Who will have access to recorded footage? How long will be archived video be stored? These are key questions that must be addressed by any city that wants to install security cameras.

Sgt. Patrick Phelps of the Syracuse Police Department's Intelligence & Technology Division in New York said that his department started a camera deployment about a year ago, but he quickly figured out that they didn't have much of an internal CCTV policy and the department was soon being questioned by the community and city council.

To help develop a policy that would not only alleviate the fears of the community, but also stand up to legal challenges, Phelps examined case law on the subject, which included cases such as Kyllo v. U.S., Katz v. U.S. and U.S. v. Knotts. While every community is different, Phelps said in Syracuse they decided in their policy that they would only use archived video for retrieval instead of live monitoring except under exigent circumstances.

Among some of Phelps suggestions in creating a CCTV policy that doesn't illicit "Big Brother" fears includes making the policy available to the public, making research findings about the surveillance system available to the public and making the reason for the system's deployment public.

"We've kept that transparent to kind of allay some of those fears," Phelps said.

Phelps also recommends soliciting community involvement, having C-level oversight of the program and including a provision for periodic assessments of the system's performance such as its effect on crime.

Training a better CCTV operator

With advancements in surveillance technology and development of innovations like video analytics, the importance of having a well-trained CCTV operator has been placed on the back burner. However, when it comes to detecting suspicious behavior, there is no replacement for the trained human eye, according to Tomer Benito, deputy director of training for the U.S. Airport and Seaport Police (InterPort Police).

"The most crucial link is the officer behind the screen," he explained.

Benito said that technology advancements have made people lazy because they have a product that can do the work for them. When it comes to viewing surveillance video, he says it's critical to have someone that can process that information correctly.

"We are fighting people, we are fighting the human element and you can only fight it with a human," he said.

To stop a terrorist, Benito said you have to think like a terrorist and that CCTV operators have to learn to look out for the same things they do such as the vulnerability of a potential target.

"Once you become the aggressor you know what to look for," Benito said.

Benito added that CCTV operators should also learn to use short and clear communications, not numbers or codes, as people at the scene can become quickly overwhelmed with what's going on around them.

While it may not always be as popular as buying the latest and greatest security technology, spending money to have properly trained CCTV operators could be a surveillance program's best investment.

"At the end of the day that is what counts," Benito said. "People don't want to invest in the human element."

Legal concerns for surveillance programs

As with any surveillance project that involves monitoring public spaces, there will inevitably be those that raise legal challenges to such systems, but there are step that cities can take to reduce their liability and address privacy concerns.

According to Alan F. Wohlstetter, an attorney with the law firm of Fox Rothchild LLP, there are five key things that cities wanting to implement surveillance systems should do and they include; having leadership that can promote the benefits of having a surveillance network; creating a legal structure that can address the public's concerns and involve the private sector to limit the city's liability; establishing a separate entity that can control the system; creating a financial model that leverages public-private partnerships; and adopting written policies that address various concerns from the public.

Of these aforementioned principles, Wohlstetter said that many cities will find that creating a separate entity will be immensely beneficial to them. Not only will it help to limit a city's liability, but it will also aid in the procurement process, according to Wohlstetter, who helped the city of Wilkes-Barre, Pa. establish a non-profit organization to run its surveillance program.
"You're in a different world," Wohlstetter said. "It makes it so you're not tied up in toilet paper going through the process."

Relinquishing that monitoring authority can prove difficult for many police departments though.

"What I say to police departments is you've got to let go," he explained.

Leveraging public-private partnerships will also help alleviate the financial burden of a surveillance system on a city as it will require businesses to share in the cost for the increased level of public safety.

Finding funding

As cities across the country have been forced to slash their budgets due to the poor economy, there is also much less money available for surveillance projects. Even once abundant grant funds are becoming more difficult to come by during these tough economic times. Fortunately, however, there are some creative ways that municipalities are finding the necessary funding for these projects.

Taking part in a panel discussion on this topic at Secured Cities were; J.J. Murphy, president and CEO of Goals Consulting and former city administrator for the city of Wilkes-Barre; Sheryl Goldstein, director of the Baltimore Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice; Patrick Ryder, commanding officer of the asset forfeiture & intelligence unit for the Nassau County Police Department in New York; and Gerard McCarthy, commanding officer of the major crimes bureau for the Suffolk County Police Department in New York.

Murphy said that Wilkes-Barre was able to fund its 250-camera system using funding from grants, as well as public-private partnerships.

"It was a small city, but we had big city issues," he said. "Cameras were a part of the solution."

Through the utilization of these partnerships, Murphy said that the city only pays $35,000 a year out its general fund. He said the city was also able to get service and maintenance agreements built-in to their request for proposals with the integrator that installed the system, which has helped save the city tremendously.

With the scarcity of public funds in the current economy, McCarthy said that cities need to be looking into asset forfeiture as a way to pay for the implementation of citywide surveillance systems. Asset forfeiture involves the seizure of money and other assets such as real estate and automobiles from those involved in criminal enterprises. McCarthy said that these forfeiture funds can be found at both the state and federal level.

"This money can be reinvested into technology that aids investigations," McCarthy said.

According to Ryder, the majority of asset forfeiture cases he deals with are handled through the civil litigation process rather than criminal as it is much more difficult and not worth as much in the end. Ryder said that there are several things he can go after a criminal for including not only the direct proceeds of a crime, but also something that substituted for the proceeds of a crime such as a house or something that was used as an instrument of crime like a vehicle.

Ryder said that federal authorities seized $40 billion worth of assets in 2010. "We're broke and it's time for the government to start giving it back," he said.

One of the biggest things that helped Baltimore save money in its surveillance program was the integration of several disparate systems into one platform. According to Goldstein, the city saved $1 million by creating a centralized monitoring center and renegotiating contracts.

"The most effective thing to do is to put everything under one roof," she said.

Goldstein also recommends that cities look into various grants that are available.

Impact on crime

The way the public measures the effectiveness of a surveillance system, right or wrong, is by examining its impact on crime. Of course, there are multiple ways that this can be done.

In Syracuse, Phelps said his department recently finished a six-month camera deployment and had to make a presentation to the city council on its effectiveness. To do this, they did a comparative analysis between 2010 and 2011. Phelps said that city has seen a much more drastic reduction in crime in areas with cameras compared to those without.

According to the analysis, overall arrest charges saw a more than 40 percent decrease in areas with cameras while drug arrest charges in those same areas dropped by 60 percent.

In Nassau County, Ryder was able to break up a burglary ring using license plate recognition software in conjunction with surveillance cameras. The county has also seen a reduction in shooting incidents following the deployment of a gunshot detection system.

"Your technology is good only if you're using good programs behind," Ryder said.

While metrics can be helpful, one of the most impactful ways that cities can show the impact of their surveillance systems is anecdotally. Phelps said that a shooting suspect in Syracuse was recently captured on film and quickly identified, which proved how effective the technology can be.

"I think (anecdotal examples) are much more valuable," he said.