It’s not enough to have a great video-surveillance system
Many law-enforcement agencies are using fixed and mobile video systems to safeguard their cities, and many more would like to do so. But while video has proved to be an effective tool for fighting crime, there are several technical and policy issues of which agencies need to be aware before embarking on such projects, to ensure that the captured footage is used effectively — or is used at all — and to help the agency avoid privacy lawsuits. That’s according to Donald Zoufal, safety and security executive with the Chicago-based security consultancy System Development Integration, who spoke on the topic this week at the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s annual conference.
For instance, Zoufal explained why the city of San Francisco often turns its cameras off for long periods of time. “No one was watching the cameras,” he said. “That’s a policy issue that they need to address.”
Allocating adequate personnel to monitor the cameras is just part of the challenge. In large cities, the amount of footage that a surveillance system captures can be staggering, much more than can possibly be viewed. Fortunately, analytics technology is developing at a rapid pace, according to Zoufal. “It’s an area that will mature over the next five to 10 years, and will greatly enhance the ability of these camera systems,” he said.
How long the video will be stored is another critical decision when engineering a video-surveillance system. “Storage costs a lot of money,” Zoufal said. To provide an idea of just how expensive storage can be, he told of a measure that had been introduced in the Illinois legislature that would have increased the amount of time that data generated by Chicago’s Operation Virtual Shield citywide video-surveillance system to 24 months from the current 30 days.
“That would have cost an additional $20 million, $10 million for additional servers and another $10 million to put the servers in,” Zoufal said. “Ultimately, they tabled that bill.”
Access is another issue that requires serious thought. “When it comes to privacy concerns, it’s not just about what you’re looking at in real-time, it’s also about what you’re doing with all of that data and how you’re managing it,” Zoufal said. “You don’t want to see a camera feed end up on YouTube, because that’s going to undermine public confidence.”
Speaking of privacy, the U.S. Constitution — specifically the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments — provides certain protections that have to be considered when deciding where to place cameras and what they will observe, according to Zoufal, who cited numerous court challenges to law-enforcement surveillance activities. He strongly urged that law-enforcement agencies strongly consider conducting a privacy impact assessment before engineering and deploying a video system.
“It will help you with community relationships and it will help you with court challenges,” Zoufal said.
In addition, myriad technology solutions are available that will help agencies to mitigate privacy issues. For example, solutions exist that limit the movement of pan/tilt/zoom cameras or create a virtual mask that prevents private areas — such as a person’s back yard — from being observed, Zoufal said.