5 Best Practices for Video Surveillance in Municipalities

5 Best Practices for Video Surveillance in Municipalities

There is perhaps no other vertical market as fraught with as many challenges when it comes to deploying video surveillance technology as that of the municipal sector. Not only are the technical hurdles immense – building out and maintaining network infrastructures that can span hundreds or, in some cases, thousands of square miles – but all of the political and legal wrangling that come with installing a publicly funded camera system are just as daunting. Unlike a private enterprise where a select group of executives can decide whether or not they’re going to make a capital investment in security cameras and implement them throughout a company, installing a city video surveillance network is a process that requires buy-in from the community and local lawmakers, soliciting bids from various systems integrators and finally developing the network.

And yet, despite these numerous obstacles, cities around the world continue to make having a robust video network a top priority. In 2013, market research firm IHS projected that global revenues from the sale of electronic security equipment in the municipal sector would grow exponentially in the year ahead, increasing from $1.4 billion in 2012 to just over $3.2 billion by 2017. The increase in global safe city initiatives, of which surveillance cameras are an integral part, also figure to have an substantial impact on the desire of municipalities to adopt next-gen video technology. A report published earlier this year by Homeland Security Research Corp. predicts that the global safe cities market will increase by 80 percent from 2015 to 2020 with revenues expected to reach $226 billion by the end of that span.       

Regardless of the purpose, there are several best practices that every city should strive to adhere to to get the most of the investment they’ve made in their video surveillance network. Here are five of the most important.

1. Develop and Foster Public-Private Partnerships

If you’ve been involved with a municipal surveillance initiative for any length of time, you’re probably well-versed in the critical role that public-private partnerships play. In many ways, public-private partnerships, or P3s as they are often referred to, are the lifeblood of a city surveillance deployment given that funding always seems to be in short supply within the municipal environment. These partnerships can also take many different shapes.

For example, in larger cities, oftentimes the business community comes together and forms a non-profit corporation for the sole purpose of procuring video hardware and software that will subsequently be donated to law enforcement and other public safety agencies. Cities of all sizes are also increasingly starting their own camera-sharing initiatives. Unlike P3s that involve the establishment of a non-profit entity to acquire equipment for public safety benefit, a camera-sharing partnership enables police to have access to the existing surveillance assets owned by private businesses in the area – typically public-facing cameras on rooftops or entry and exit points – which they can then tie back into a centralized location. This serves as a tremendous force multiplier for public safety agencies, especially those who already have robust public networks.

2. Share Video Resources with Others in the Public Sector  

In the aftermath of 9/11, one of the biggest initiatives at all levels of government was to encourage greater information sharing between various law enforcement agencies and other first responders. This also meant that public safety agencies would have to share the physical tools at their disposal, including surveillance cameras. This was easier said than done.

Agencies were used to having their own networks that only they were allowed to use and didn’t want others interfering in their operations. However, when you consider that there may be several different publicly owned surveillance networks within a single city – local police, department of transportation, various state agencies, etc. – it only makes sense to spread the wealth among all public safety agencies.

If your city has yet to adopt any formal information or asset-sharing policies, at least start the conversation. There will still be many things that have to be worked out, such as entering into memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with various other agencies before these initiatives can get off the ground, but everyone has to start somewhere.

3. Leverage Video Analytics

While video analytics may have earned a poor reputation in the industry for overpromising and under delivering when they first hit the market, the technology has grown by leaps and bounds since that time. Not only are the algorithms traditionally used to detect objects left behind and intrusions onto property greatly improved, but there is a lot more intelligence cities can glean from analytics these days. For example, analytics now have the capability to provide advanced warning to police and other city officials when crowds may be gathering for a protest or, worse yet, a flash mob intent on wreaking havoc in a particular area of town. Video analytics can help law enforcement stay one step ahead in regards to both preventing crime and maintaining law and order.

4. Take Advantage of the Full Range of Video Technology Options        

Like the rest of the industry, many cities are in the midst of upgrading their surveillance systems from analog to IP. Along with that transition, municipalities now will have a wider range of technology options at their disposal, which not only reduces the demands on their network, but also saves them money over the long-term. A prime example of this can be found in replacing pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) camera models with newer panoramic offerings that can provide end-users with 180-, 270- or 360-degree views of a scene. PTZs have been a mainstay in municipal surveillance networks for years and rightfully so, but oftentimes cities have found these cameras pointed the wrong way during an incident. However, a panoramic camera gives operators the ability to take a second look at footage from another angle, which can be highly beneficial during investigations.

5. Be Diligent About Service and Maintenance

This may be the most fundamental but often overlooked aspect of any camera network. After all, what good is having a camera if it doesn’t actually work? There have been numerous instances where crimes, even murders, have been committed directly underneath a camera but when investigators went to review the footage, they realized the camera wasn’t working. Carefully review your service and maintenance contracts with your integrator to ensure they are holding up their end of the bargain. Even the best products can occasionally suffer failures for a variety of reasons, but staying on top of them is paramount.

As we move forward, the use of video surveillance is only expected to increase within cities and municipalities. As these networks grow and evolve, city and public safety officials need to sit down with their integration partners to figure out where they have been successful and where improvements may need to be made in their system. The true value of any municipal surveillance network is not necessarily how many crimes it solves, but how it improves the lives of the people who live in that city.


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