How Security Cameras Helped King City Police Reduce Violence and Improve Safety
Situated 51 miles southeast of Salinas, King City, California, was incorporated in 1911 as “City of King” in honor of pioneer Charles H. King, whose success at farming created a need for railway access to what became known as King’s Station in 1886. With its beautiful, tree-lined streets and quaint historical downtown, the city serves as a gateway and access point for Pinnacles National Park and the Monterey County wine region. Since the first settlers arrived in the 1880s, King City has grown to a population of about 13,000.
In recent years, however, King City has become known for a different reason; in both 2013 and 2015, the city’s homicide per capita rate for victims between 18 and 22 years of age was the highest in the state of California. The main reason for this is that the city had become a point of contention in a turf war between rival Latino gangs to the north and south of King City.
This is the situation Police Chief Robert Masterson walked into when he came on board in July 2016. With a department of 17 sworn officers, including the chief, police faced an uphill climb in curbing this disturbing trend.
“For an average town of about 13,000 people, 17 officers is adequate, but for a violent town of 13,000, it’s woefully inadequate,” Masterson says.
Part of the city’s process for addressing the problem was to form a committee of community members charged with producing a plan to reduce King City’s youth violence. After working for six months, the committee came up with a 23-point strategic plan its members felt would alleviate the problem. One of those points was to install video surveillance cameras throughout the city, which Chief Masterson says became a primary focus for his department.
“The idea for a camera system came to light because a city north of us has a camera system. When I looked at that and thought about what London and New York have, I saw a benefit of cameras from a prevention standpoint just to deter crime. There was also an investigative aspect that was attractive as well,” Masterson says.
Based on a recommendation from systems integrator SurveillanceGrid, the King City Police Department selected Hanwha PNM-9081VQ 20 megapixel multi-sensor directional cameras.
“I believe in listening to the people I’m paying, so when they said this was the right camera, we took their advice,” Masterson says. “They showed us the resolutions between the Hanwha camera and others on the market, and it was obviously a much better resolution with more frames per second, which provided us better visibility with cleaner and clearer images. And the Hanwha cameras gave us a much more detailed image at night.”
With four sensors with 5 megapixel resolution each, the vandal-resistant cameras offer triple codec H.265/H.264/MJPEG, combined with WiseStream II technology for ultimate compression without sacrificing image quality. Bandwidth efficiency is important because the cameras send video wirelessly back to servers located in a command center within the King City Police Department.
The combination of leading-edge compression technologies has also been critical for reducing storage requirements. Initially, the police department used the Hanwha cameras’ on-board motion-based analytic to trigger recording but has since switched to 24/7 recording instead.
“We’ve found that if the cameras are recording all the time, they can often capture images outside of the motion range, so we’d rather fill our hard drives than miss something that may be occurring in the background,” Masterson said.
In terms of placement, one of King City’s priorities was to install cameras in locations where the police department would be able to capture video of anyone coming into or going out of town. This was important because most of the shootings were perpetrated by people from outside the city.
“When all was said and done, we installed 93 cameras in about a three-and-a-half-mile area, with another 52 planned for phase two. So if you go from one side of our city to the other, we are guaranteed to capture you on camera,” Masterson says. “We publicized the camera system as a deterrent, letting gang members know we’re watching them coming and going from our city.”
The cameras are typically located at intersections the police department determined to be a high priority for traffic flow and points of activity. There are four cameras mounted on a pole or light post at each intersection. Three of the cameras face the intersection, with the fourth looking at the pole itself, “for self-preservation of the camera system,” Masterson says.
Video is mostly used for investigative purposes. If an incident occurs, the first thing the police department does is review video to see if any relevant information was captured. This came into play early on, shortly after the first camera pole was installed in late 2017. With information gathered from a camera mounted at a local business, King City Police Department was able to find a vehicle involved in a shooting rather quickly, despite having a limited amount of video to review.
“The vehicle drove by the only camera we had functioning in the city at the time within minutes of the shooting. The Hanwha cameras gave us enough detail that we were able to write a search warrant on a specific vehicle,” Masterson says. “We seized on the deterrent aspect by making sure to include the fact that our one camera captured a shooting in our city in a press release.”
As King City looks to transform itself from a point of contention in a violent gang war to a safe place to live and work, Hanwha cameras have played a key role in the city’s positive results so far.
“We’ve been working to change things, and the Hanwha camera system is working wonders. Last year, we had 32 shootings and three homicides but since the cameras were installed, we’ve only had one shooting since the start of the year,” Masterson says.