Secured Cities conference shares municipal video and urban security education

April 24, 2012
From crime camera projects to aviation security, DHS funding, legal privacy concerns, conference provides education on urban security technology deployments

The Secured Cities conference wrapped up in Chicago last Friday, April 20, 2012, providing attendees with insights on funding for urban projects, emerging video technologies, legal issues for municipal video, and thoughts from leading law enforcement and technology leaders.

City administrators, managers, end-users, integrators and vendors gathered in the Windy City to discuss the latest topics in municipal video surveillance deployments. Top of mind was storage and bandwidth, the proliferation of video networks that share video feeds and integrated solutions in a "federated" design; as well as new areas of funding as local municipal funds dwindle and Department of Homeland Security grants and other monies become less prevalent.

Secured Cities Conference Director Geoff Kohl kicked off the two-day event on Thursday, April 19 stating that the industry needs to "protect our investments in urban infrastructures—and most importantly—protect our people. This may be the Second City, but it's second to none in its approach to urban security, especially as it prepares for the upcoming NATO gathering," he said.

Chicago Police Department keynotes opening

Known throughout the U.S. and perhaps the world as a steadfast proponent of municipal video surveillance systems, Chicago Police Department's Sergeant Patrick O'Donnell gave a frank discussion on the thousands of cameras in and around the city, even chronicling some of the missteps made that others deploying these types of extensive networks may learn from.

The second largest police department in the U.S., the Chicago Police Department has roughly 4.8 officers for every 1,000 residents, according to O'Donnell, and one of the initial challenges in building out the video surveillance was tapping into networks that did not include the fiber optic backbone readily available in the downtown areas and business districts.

"But we had radio towers and fiber running back from those radio towers so we were able to leverage that and a lot of other strategies to get the video back to us," O'Donnell said.  Some of the different strategies deployed to build out the "federated (i.e., using other public and private agency cameras) network" included direct-to-fiber connections; mesh-to-fiber; radio to an aggregation point then fed into the fiber; and the 3G/4G cellular network combined with modems and cable modems where line of sight was problematic or not available. Chicago's Office of Emergency Management & Communications (OEMC), also where the city's 911 dispatch center is located, views video and uses live feeds to let officers know what's going on in and around the city. In fact, every video feed in the Chicago surveillance network is available into the OEMC.

O'Donnell also talked about the importance of the city's federated system, which brings in core security devices and cameras from agencies and private businesses across the area. The system is federated, for example, to Chicago's Operation Virtual Shield; Chicago Public Schools; the Chicago Housing Authority (which recently purchased 13,000 cameras for deployment); the Chicago Transit Authority; Department of Transportation; Department of Streets and Sanitation; Department of Aviation at O'Hare and Midway Airports; and other entities. Chicago currently has ownership or access to some 17,000 cameras, 1,000 of those which are high-definition (HD), 48 analytics (license plate recognition) units and 20 thermal cameras.

"We leverage cameras from outlying areas so we don't have to purchase as many," O'Donnell said. "We are also expanding our Police Observation Devices (PODs) program of cameras, and much of the funding today is coming not only from the city but corporations and the aldermen (who also have some funding and can purchase cameras through Ward funds), as well as 1505 Narcotics Seizure funds, U.S. Department of Justice grants and the Illinois Board of Higher Education." He added that since June 2011, there were some 1,446 PODs-related arrests as a result of video evidence.

O'Donnell recounted that one of the problems in merging or federating surveillance was all the different video management systems and cameras being deployed. "Getting those to integrate has been an ongoing effort," he said. He also spoke of new efforts to expand the city's network of 17,000 cameras, including the recent installation of some 20 thermal cameras along the lakefront as well as 1,000 high-definition or HD cameras. "The HD cameras take up huge amounts of bandwidth, so we needed to be cognizant of how many cameras the network would handle and also, how many HD cameras the wireless network could handle. We know that they will provide better forensic capabilities with the high-def and higher megapixels," O'Donnell said.

Other tips from O'Donnell with regards to deploying municipal video strategies:

  • Provide training to maximize video's effectiveness.
  • Know how much storage you need and how much you have to use when determining municipal policies.
  • Establish various levels of access for users of the video by policy.
  • Centralize the video leadership—"we duplicated a lot of efforts initially by everyone trying to have their own separate system," he said.
  • Document day-to-day operations and maintain detailed locations and IP addresses of cameras, as well as record problems with cameras and document maintenance so cameras are up and ready when needed.
  • For vendors, don't oversell what the technology does or its capabilities.

Funding initiatives for municipal video projects have changed, and state and federal grants have been lessened to the point where cities and municipalities have to look for other areas to gain monies. Mark Jules, executive director of the National Public Safety Foundation gave insights into new areas of funding, as well as the important role collaborative partnerships play in garnering funds. (See related article: "Finding Urban Security And Municipal Video Funding.")

Video analytics, video management and physical security information management (PSIM) systems were also hot topics of discussion in several Secured Cities sessions, including "Pixels, Camera Placements and Wireless Backhauls," by Jasper Bruinzeel, vice president of Marketing & Sales for CelPlan Technologies, Reston, Va.

Bruinzeel said CelPlan and Wi4Net, a division of the company, have worked with numerous cities and municipalities across the country in maximizing wireless backhaul technologies and frequencies used for wireless transmission in public safety areas. "The evolution of wireless camera surveillance is to more comprehensive security and integrated solutions in a single integrated management platform," Bruinzeel said. "In the next 10 years we'll see a lot of development in video analytics for surveillance networks. Today, everything is wound around the budget, what things cost, what costs the most; and how to optimize what you are getting for your budget," he said.

He added that for wireless mesh and surveillance deployments, traffic structures are ideal—they have power and light—and allows the contractor to avoid digging and trenching. "Also keep in mind that wireless signals don't propagate well through trees. And yes, you can use solar-operated cameras but once you use PTZ and other parameters you are going to need a big panel and a big battery—and that might not be possible in some city locations."

Bandwidth discussions and concerns

PSIM is also becoming a critical part of an integrated camera and security device solution, such as access control, and Jannecke Stashower, senior technical manager for Intergraph Security's Government & Infrastructure said bandwidth is a concern with PSIM and other integrated solutions. "It's all about bandwidth—video related work flows incorporated into PSIM will require additional bandwidth," she commented.

Stashower also said in order to determine whether you need a VMS or a PSIM you have to look at what you want to integrate, such as badging, smoke detectors or access control systems. "Maybe it's a VMS you might need that might be appropriate, or a PSIM." She added that next generation 911 operators will be able to take video from a smartphone and download it for observation or forensics.

Return on investment for video surveillance

Lunchtime keynote speaker Nancy La Vigne, Justice Policy Center Director for the Urban Institute, presented research findings into the effectiveness of video surveillance, reviewing findings and methodology from her 2011 reports: "Evaluating the Use of Public Surveillance Cameras," and "Evaluation of Camera Use to Prevent Crime in Commuter Parking Facilities," revealing that cameras are effective and well accepted in the majority of communities surveyed.

Quick takeaways from La Vigne's talk include:

  • Cameras increase the likelihood of detection and apprehension,
  • Video surveillance prevents all types of crimes,
  • Monitoring techniques, passive tours versus active, on-the-spot monitoring, have a positive impact on the likelihood of detection,
  • In the cities of Baltimore, Chicago and Washington, D.C., targeted for the study, there was a distinct downward trend of crimes after camera implementation (averaging 30 percent),
  • In all areas, there was no evidence of displacement—a phenomenon whereby the placement of cameras causes crime to move out to surrounding areas.
  • Cameras can be expensive, but there are averted victimization cost benefits of millions of dollars.

"Cameras are not a substitute for line officers however," she said. "Cameras have to be combined with other proactive law enforcement activities, but we have to make sure cameras go where there is a history of crime anyway." 

More information on the three public surveillance reports can be found online at by searching public surveillance. On the site there's a summary guidebook for jurisdictions on considerations for implementing citywide surveillance systems ("Using Public Surveillance Systems for Crime Control and Prevention: A Practical Guide for Law Enforcement and Their Municipal Partners,"

Green Lantern swoops in

In a light-hearted start to his session, "Legal Issues in Video Surveillance," Alan Wohlstetter, chair of the Infrastructure Practice Group for Fox Rothschild LLP donned a Green Lantern costume and rushed boldly into the room to start his session with the caveat that "Even super heroes need a video surveillance network."

Wohlstetter talked about legal issues important to video surveillance, and said that today video is ubiquitous and everywhere and as such, privacy is no longer as much as a consideration as it was in the past. "Video surveillance is the world in which we live in today. It's everywhere, so you can't reasonably expect privacy," he said.

He also said that video can be shared as long as the surveillance is used for the purpose with which it was gathered.    


Chicago Police Department Sergeant Patrick O'Donnell gave highlights and insights into the city's successful video surveillance network. Photo: Deborah L. O'Mara