Municipal surveillance in the spotlight at Secured Cities

City, law enforcement officials gather to discuss industry trends


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.