Surveillance systems transform security landscape for cities

City leaders, law enforcement authorities, equipment manufacturers and systems integrators gathered May 10 to 11 for the first Secured Cities conference in Atlanta. The conference provided attendees with an opportunity to learn about some of the biggest challenges and best practices associated with implementing citywide surveillance systems. A second Secured Cities conference is scheduled Nov. 10 to 11 in Baltimore, Md.

“Our goal is to encourage the adoption of the right technology, the right practices and the correct policies so that all of our nation’s cities become more livable so that our cities become our sources of pride and strength as a nation,” says Geoffrey Kohl, editor-in-chief and associate publisher of and, top portals for the security industry trade news.

Defining a strategy — Chicago

Sgt. Patrick O’Donnell, program manager for the Chicago Police Department’s Police Observation Device initiative discussed how the city manages its robust surveillance network called Operation Virtual Shield. Through the Chicago Office of Emergency Communications (OEMC), the system ties together more than 17,000 cameras from a variety of city agencies and private entities.

Because the Chicago surveillance network includes disparate systems from across the city, O’Donnell says they manage the multitude of cameras using a map-based interface, which makes the system more user-friendly and allows operators to view and control cameras via a mouse click. The OEMC has also set up specific user groups to control who is allowed to see specific cameras, as well as who can control certain camera functionality such as pan/tilt/zoom features. OEMC officials can also control who has authority to archive video.

Though the city has been successful in tying these systems together, O’Donnell admitted that using technology solutions from a variety of vendors would not be an optimal choice for cities looking to install a new network.

In the end, he advised agencies should probably complete a citywide solution from a single vendor.
Some of the next steps for the city’s camera system, according to O’Donnell, include looking into improving the cameras themselves with high-definition models, increased local storage and increased transmission bandwidth and reliability. In addition, Chicago is examining how video analytics can be used to enhance the system, and what additional benefits license plate recognition solutions can provide. There are also plans to install three long range cameras along the city’s lakefront along with 150 traditional security cameras.

Lessons learned — Wilkes-Barre

A good example of the kind of positive impact video surveillance can have on a city can be found in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, which installed a 260-camera network a little more than a year ago. In fact, the city has more cameras per capita than any other town in the U.S.
According to J.J. Murphy, principal for Goals Consulting and former city manager of Wilkes-Barre, the city reduced its police force from 108 officers down to 63 about five years ago. In the wake of these police cuts, he says that no one wanted to come to the downtown area at night because it was perceived unsafe.

To help make the area safer, Wilkes-Barre decided to deploy a network of both wireless and wired cameras throughout the city. According to Murphy, within the first year of the camera system installation, 26 new businesses moved into the area bringing with them nearly $700,000 in new tax revenue. He says the city has also saved $60,000 in repairs to its playgrounds, which were plagued by vandals prior to the installation of the cameras.

Impact on crime — Atlanta

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.
Atlanta Police Chief George Turner, who delivered the keynote address at the conference, says he wants to establish a camera network that’s similar in size and scope to those of larger municipal surveillance systems in the country.

According to David Wardell, director of operations and public safety for the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District, the downtown Atlanta area has seen a 34-percent reduction in crime during the first three years of its camera program. Despite the impact on crime statistics in the city, Wardell says that the perception people have about cameras can be just as powerful.

As part of the conference, attendees took a tour of the future home of Atlanta’s Video Integration Center (VIC), co-located with the city’s state-of-art 911 call center. The initial phase of Atlanta’s video project, dubbed Operation Shield, is expected to be up and running this month and will include 400-500 cameras that cover the city’s downtown and midtown areas.
Read more on the Secured Cities conference at

Joel Griffin is assistant editor of