Surveillance systems transform security landscape for cities

Panelists discuss the impact of municipal surveillance networks at Secured Cities conference

Atlanta, which has plans to tie together thousands of public and private through its Operation Shield video integration project, is currently working on securing grants. Some cameras currently being utilized by the city were installed as a result of an agreement with the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District (ADID), a public-private partnership that is funded by commercial property owners.

Dave Wardell, director of operations and public safety for ADID, said that the goal of the organization when it installed the cameras wasn't exactly to fight crime, but to help with crowd and emergency management as the city tends to be a hub for large conventions.

The cameras installed by ADID will be integrated into Operation Shield when the city's new Video Integration Center is opened later this year.

Murphy, who helped get Wilkes-Barre's system off the ground, said that the town was able to install its network by only using $50,000 out of the town's general fund as a result of grants they applied for and received.

"There's really no magic bullet," he explained. "It really is an innovative process."

One of Wilkes-Barre's major sources of funding for the project came through a transportation grant. The town also received gaming funds, as well as money from the state and public-private partnerships.

When applying for funding, Murphy suggests that cities explain what the economic impact will be of installing a surveillance network.

"It's going to come down to your municipality's vision," he said.

Similar to Atlanta, the city of Dallas was able install cameras in its downtown section as a result of funds raised by Downtown Dallas Inc., an organization that represents the area's business community.

According to Deputy Chief Brian Harvey of the Dallas Police Department, the cameras have proved a critical tool in helping to revitalize the downtown area.

The city is now looking at ways to help pay for monitoring of the system, which costs $1.5 million a year. According to Harvey, the system is watched over by retired police officers who make $27 an hour for no more than 20 hours a week.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Col. Wayne Mock, public safety manager and homeland security coordinator for the Midtown Blue public safety force in Midtown Atlanta, oversees a 48-camera system that is completely funded by the private sector.

Mock said that Midtown was crime ridden as little as six years ago, but with the help of the cameras, they've managed to make it safe again for area residents and visitors.

When Midtown Blue's first camera was installed several years back, Mock said that seven arrests were made within the first two weeks.

Impact on crime

An obvious return-on-investment measuring stick for any municipal surveillance network is its impact on crime. However, crime figures can sometimes be deceiving. As people begin to realize that their actions are being monitored, the deterrent effect of cameras comes into play.

In addition to the aforementioned vandalism incidents that cameras prevented in Wilkes-Barre, Murphy said they've made residents feel safe again.

"(The cameras) have certainly changed perception of our downtown," he said.

According to Wardell, the downtown Atlanta area has seen a 34 percent reduction in crime during the first three years of its camera program. Despite the impact that cameras have had on crime statistics in the city, Wardell said that the perception people have about cameras can be just as powerful.

"Perception is what we deal with everyday," he said. "Crime is going to go places that don't have cameras. Developers are going to the places that do."

The Dallas surveillance system, which consists of about 140 cameras, has contributed significantly to crime reduction efforts in the city.

According to Harvey, between 2004 and 2010, the downtown Dallas area saw a 41 percent reduction in crime.

"Folks are no longer scared to come out to have dinner or have a drink," said Martin Cramer, vice president of public safety for Downtown Dallas Inc.

Since the system was installed, Cramer said that more residential and commercial developments have been built in the downtown area.