In Minneapolis, Minnesota, for example, surveillance cameras have had a big impact on street robberies. In the first year, Minneapolis reduced robberies by 44 percent and thefts from motor vehicles by 14 percent where cameras were set up downtown.Combating high-crime areas
To reduce crime, cameras need to be set up in the highest level crime areas. "There's really no point in putting cameras in low-crime areas," says Ratcliffe.
Yet, he has seen that happen when camera placement is based on politics rather than crime analysis.
"It can be a real millstone around the neck of a small police department if closed circuit TV cameras are implemented in places where they are not really needed," Ratcliffe warns. "Once you bring in the camera systems and tell people you have CCTV, it's really difficult to remove them. The public and politicians will never accept that you are removing the CCTV cameras. Once you have the cameras, you're stuck with them."
Instead of being force multipliers, they create more work.
When cameras are set up in a location where public disorder often erupts, officer safety can benefit. CCTV can provide officers a heads-up as they talk by radio to an officer monitoring the cameras or officers can see for themselves what's taking place by looking at a monitor in their patrol car. Knowing in advance what they are responding to helps prepare officers before they arrive.The challenges of CCTV implementation
Once law enforcement agencies understand the benefits of CCTV, they must realize the challenges they may face to gain those benefits. In addition to political challenges, Gerry Wethington, vice president of Homeland Security, Justice and Public Safety for Reston, Virginia-based Unisys Corporation, describes business and technology challenges.
The business challenge is aligning organizational need and capabilities with the appropriate level of technology, Wethington says. And to leverage the technologies, he adds that traditional law enforcement practice requires adaptation.
Selecting the appropriate video camera is essential, but there's more technology working behind the scenes that requires careful consideration.
Vendors can help establish an understanding of the technologies, which in basic terms will include:
- various types (and qualities) of cameras,
- communications and network connectivity options, and
- recording capacities and capabilities.
Many factors impact technology selection. Geography, number of cameras, existing infrastructure, permits for system placement, power for field-deployed surveillance equipment and communications are all factors when implementing a surveillance system, Wethington says.
While the technology can sound complex, he says, with help, it can be the easiest of the three challenges to take on.Technology assistance
When looking for someone to help put new technology in place, an agency should seek someone who understands (or will diligently learn) the unique technology requirements of the policing environment. It's also important that a consultant and/or systems integrator not only understands networking but how to network video technology. And lastly, to determine the best way to transmit images from one geographic location to another, a consultant or integrator must possess local engineering knowledge. A city agency that wants to install cameras on every block downtown has different needs than a rural agency looking to install a couple of cameras 10 miles apart.
Kent Huffman, chief marketing officer for BearCom Wireless Worldwide, headquartered in Dallas, Texas, says agencies should choose an integrator that is experienced with the various technologies involved, and has strong customer references.
"Also, be sure to explore the various DOT (Department of Transportation) and DHS (Department of Homeland Security) grants available to help offset the cost of the system components and installation," he says. "A good integrator can help with that part of the process as well."