Municipal surveillance in the spotlight at Secured Cities

City, law enforcement officials gather to discuss industry trends


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.

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