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City Surveillance Success

​THE CITY OF DAVENPORT, Iowa, was approached by its police department four years ago and asked to help law enforcement by researching, testing, and implementing a city surveillance system. The system has been live for a little over a year, and not only has it helped the police as intended, but the city has been surprised by the positive response from both businesses and the public.

In response to the initial request from the Davenport police department in 2005, the city council budgeted $100,000 for a one-year surveillance project. Before embarking on the project, the city council researched what other cities were doing.

In their research, the city council found that other localities that had success deploying cameras were open and inclusive with the public: They shared details of the types of video surveillance to be used and requested input as to camera locations; they worked out clear signage policies and posted signs in all areas where surveillance might occur.

The city council then discussed the issue with legal advisors, developed a policy manual, and wrote guidelines. Some of the legal issues that surfaced included positioning cameras to avoid viewing anything that might be regarded as beyond the public domain, such as what could be seen through the windows of hotel rooms or personal residences, for example.

The policy manual placed restrictions on which personnel would have access to the cameras, set requirements for operator training, and spelled out rules for how video would be stored, reviewed, copied, or used for law enforcement purposes. The manual and guidelines were completed in 2007, and the pilot program began in 2008.

As part of the pilot, the city decided to test a variety of different cameras to determine which ones worked best. The pilot program used 12 cameras by four different manufacturers.

The city purchased each of these, rather than having the vendors lend them for testing purposes. All the cameras seemed to perform well, and the city was pleased to be able to maintain the initial investment. Unfortunately, when it decided to expand the project, the various types of cameras meant that the city had to find a common platform to control the devices.

In 2008, the council decided to hire an integrator to help combine the different cameras into one working system. Rob Henry, CIO for the city, was put in charge of the project. Henry contacted Raytheon of Waltham, Massachusetts, for advice.

As an integrator on previous projects, Raytheon had a positive track record with the city. “We approached Raytheon with a list of our needs,” says Henry. “We wanted more cameras, a wireless network, a common platform, and analytics.”

Raytheon developed a short list of potential solutions and demonstrated all of them for the council. A system by VidSys of Vienna, Virginia, was the clear winner. “The key for us was that Raytheon could easily overlay the VidSys system with our existing wireless network,” says Henry.

As part of a second pilot program, launched in 2009, VidSys deployed its physical security information management (PSIM) software. The system has three components: software that manages the various types of cameras, a video storage system, and a video display system, called VidShield. The cameras, which are connected via fiber optic and wireless links to the monitoring station at city hall, are not viewed live because of staff limitations. The feed is recorded and stored at the monitoring station.

The VidSys system serves as the interoperability and integration platform, providing the city with one common operating system. The solution’s open architecture allows the city to quickly add new cameras to the platform without additional cost. It also allows video feeds to be shared with multiple departments as well as with emergency and public safety personnel.

During the pilot, the city worked with VidSys to determine which features were needed. Analytics was one feature the city tested. “We had the money to purchase equipment,” explained Henry. “But we had very little staff to monitor the cameras.” The plan was to use analytics to spot crimes in progress. The video would also be stored so that it could be used for investigative and evidentiary purposes.

The city also worked with VidSys to tweak the analytics so that it targeted events useful to police. For example, the analytics are programmed to work in crowds so that police are alerted if there is a bag left unattended during a music festival.

The system also allows police officers to view cameras remotely from their cars within a specified area. This monitoring allows officers to surveil a situation in real time during special events. It also saves the city money because officers need not be deployed to physically patrol the event.

Locals not only approve of the program, but they have also asked that it be expanded. The city has fielded numerous requests from businesses and residents to have cameras placed in certain areas.

Henry attributes this success to careful planning by the city. “We have been sensitive to privacy issues from the beginning and were careful to thoroughly justify the camera locations,” he says.

Businesses have also offered to let the city use their private IT networks if the police will expand the video coverage. The businesses are not asking for monitoring but want the police to have access during emergencies. Though no agreements have yet been approved with area businesses, the city is in the process of partnering with one local high school. The city plans to link to the school’s video feeds to monitor the school.

Police are also happy with the system. For example, in one neighborhood, crowds of people frequently gathered in the street. Illegal activity such as drug use often took place. The city put up four cameras to focus on that neighborhood. Within three days, citizens were phoning to thank the police for putting up the cameras. People stopped gathering there, and the residents felt safer. These results were replicated in high-crime areas in various parts of the city.

The system has also helped solve crimes. In one case, a police officer was investigating a case of vandalism on a local building. The video captured the perpetrator on tape. While patrolling in town, the officer spotted the culprit and made an arrest. Though the individual denied all involvement in the vandalism, the video provided conclusive proof of his guilt.