The security week that was: 05/13/11 (crime cameras)

How effective are crime cameras?

Municipal video surveillance was the topic this week at the first annual Secured Cities conference. Held in downtown Atlanta, Ga., the conference brought together more than 150 persons involved in municipal video surveillance, representing a mix of city managers, city IT staff, law enforcement leaders as well as systems integrators, consultants, downtown improvement district leaders and technology vendors. After a strong conference and fantastic feedback, we’re planning to host another Secured Cities conference this year. Mark your calendars for Nov. 10-11 in Baltimore, Md. You’ll find more information on the conference coming soon.

One of the highlights of the Secured Cities conference was a panel discussion featuring David Wardell, CPP (Atlanta Downtown Improvement District), Sgt. Patrick O’Donnell (Chicago Police Department), Deputy Chief Brian Harvey (Dallas Police Department), Martin Cramer, CPP (Downtown Dallas Inc.) and J.J. Murphy (former city manager, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.). Our panelists examined the question: How do security cameras impact crime and how do you measure it?

In municipal video surveillance and in security in general, there has been a movement over the last few years to add security cameras wherever you can afford them. But we all know that quality cameras aren’t inexpensive and there are annual costs that users experience. There are the costs for technical service of the cameras (even something as simple as cleaning the lenses/enclosures adds up over time), cost for the signaling infrastructure (especially important in a city, where a camera may be mounted a long distance from the monitoring station), monitoring/staffing costs, and even possibly licensing costs. So, with all of the costs that are associated with keeping cameras up and running, are they worth it?

The answer, according to our panelists, is yes. But that’s a qualified "yes." Placed in the correct area and used actively to monitor situations or used somewhat regularly to investigate incidents, the cameras do show their value. All of our panelists said they have to prove the ROI of their camera systems regularly to their constituents. Who’s asking for proof? Sometimes it’s the mayor’s office. Sometimes it’s the local media if they’re reporting on city expenses? Sometimes it’s the head of the police. Sometimes it is local businesses if they’re helping to fund these projects. Other times it can even be grant providers.

Some measure by the number of times video has been provided to prosecutors. Others count the number of times video is provided for police investigations. Some count the number of actively monitored incidents that generate calls for police response. Some look broadly at the overall crime statistics in the immediate area and compare that to camera placement – keeping in mind that they have to consider blurring factors such as change in office staffing that could skew these numbers. Some look at how many new businesses have come into the area since the cameras were installed.

One thing is for sure: Everyone measures the value of their camera project against the real costs, and all of our panelists do it differently. But they’ve each found that cameras do provide value. Stay tuned, we’ll soon be showing you how you actually measure these projects.

In other news
Rail systems step up security, gaps in TWIC program, more

Some customers of arts and crafts retailer Michaels Stores Inc. have fallen victim to debit card fraud following PIN pad tampering at several of the company’s locations in the Chicago area. … Rail systems across the nation have stepped up their security efforts following the discovery of information in the raid against al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, which show the terror group may be targeting U.S. trains. … Gaps in the TWIC program could be leaving U.S. port vulnerable as an official with the Government Accountability Office testified before Congress this week that undercover investigators were able gain access to ports using counterfeit TWIC cards or authentic TWICs obtained through fraud. … A new cellphone alert system, which can be used to relay important messages from the president, as well as Amber Alerts and other life safety information to the general public, was announced this week in New York City.