Improving video surveillance dependent upon managing expectations

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

CHICAGO—By the end of May, the Chicago Transit Authority will have at least one surveillance camera in place at each of its 144 stations. The CTA is in the process of installing 3,000 cameras throughout its transportation system, which will likely be completed by the end of the year, reported the Chicago Tribune.

The $19 million system, which was largely funded by Homeland Security grants, will considerably boost the city’s monitoring capability and contribute to its crime investigation efforts. “We know cameras deter violence in our neighborhoods,” said Mayor Richard Daley during a news conference on May 21. “They can be equally effective on public transportation.”

While surveillance systems can certainly aid in law enforcement activities and crime reduction, it’s important to clearly communicate the capabilities and expectations of cameras to both the public as well as those managing the system, said Chad Parris, senior consultant with Security Risk Management Consultants in Columbus, Ohio. “A camera system is only one tool in the overall tool belt of a municipality in dealing with criminal activity,” said Parris. “If they think they’re going to solve all their problems with cameras, they’re sorely mistaken because if it’s not managed appropriately, it will fail.”

Parris is currently in the planning and development stage of a video surveillance system in the city of Columbus, Ohio and said it’s critical to outline the expectations of the system long before discussions of specs and technology. It’s especially important to make the public aware of how the system will be used. 

“There’s an educational process that needs to be communicated to the citizens about the system and how it’s managed and operated and the expectation of what it’s going to be,” he said. The public is often concerned about issues of privacy and it is the responsibility of the municipality to ease those concerns. “Camera technology now has 40x zoom capability and can look into private residences and we try to let our customers, the municipalities, know that they need to communicate to the general public about masking and blocking technologies, which prevent police from looking into private residences.”

It’s even more important for those operating the system to clearly outline how the system will be used. At the beginning of May, Parris held a charrette, or an information sharing session, with city leaders and multiple stakeholders in Columbus, Ohio to determine exactly what the system would be used for, how it would be operated and who would manage it. “All those are issues that need to be addressed first before put you put the cameras in or the system will fail,” he emphasized.

Many cities have learned this the hard way. “So many municipalities bought cameras and then figured out how to manage it after,” he said. “We’re trying to put together expectations and understand the requirements of the system before we begin the implementation.”

After the operational and management procedures have been determined, then it’s time to start considering technology, which also comes with its own set of challenges. “CSI is our worst enemy,” Parris said. “Some of the things on CSI just kill us because half of the things you see on CSI are possible and the rest of it is in the screenwriters’ imagination.”

Municipalities must understand the objective of each camera and determine whether it will be used to look at a large space or needed to view down to a granular level. “Maybe megapixel or maybe analytics are necessary and every situation is different,” he said.

Figuring out how to physically implement the cameras is also one of the biggest design challenges a municipality faces. Finding the proper mounting assets where the cameras can get power and be effective is often challenging. More and more cities are turning to wireless solutions because fiber isn’t available, said Parris, but it’s often critical to get the system back to a fiber or network anchor point.

But, most importantly, it’s critical for a city to run pilot projects to ensure the system will meet these expectations. “We always do a proof of concept with them and install the equipment so they can see, touch and feel it before an intensive implementation,” he said. “We want to make sure those expectations are very clear to them and they fully understand the capability and limitations of the technology.” 



Mayor Daley is out of touch with reality if he thinks surveillance video cameras on the CTA train stations are going to deter crime. Just take a look at the cameras on the street corners that have not stop gangs from using guns even in the day time. It's a waste of tax payers money which could use to hire more police officers for the streets.