It Takes a Village

It Takes a Village

Atlanta chooses to deploy force multiplier to aid officers in protecting the city

Both the capital and the most populous city in the state, Atlanta, Georgia is home to nearly half a million people. It also contains the third largest concentration of Fortune 500 companies in the country and serves as the global headquarters for corporations such as Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Delta Airlines and UPS. As the city’s population grew, it became apparent the Atlanta Police Department (APD) needed a force multiplier to assist its 2,000 officers in protecting Atlanta’s residents and businesses while also creating a safer environment for the millions of tourists visiting the area.

In 2007, then Atlanta mayor, Shirley Franklin, was instrumental in creating the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF), a private, nonprofit organization of business leaders, whose mission is to ensure that Atlanta is one of the safest large cities in America. One of APF’s first strategic programs was Operation Shield, which would become a canopy of integrated surveillance cameras that would monitor neighborhoods across the city. The 10,000+ camera network enables the Atlanta Police Department—through its partnership with APF and private sector businesses—to maintain real-time surveillance across much of the city, helping to reduce crime and enhance emergency preparedness.

Creating a 360-degree View

As the city began strategically deploying surveillance cameras throughout Atlanta, APF invested $350,000 to create the cuttingedge Loudermilk Operation Shield Video Integration Center (VIC). The VIC integrates video feeds from nearly 10,400 publiclyand privately-owned surveillance cameras to give the police department greater coverage of city streets. The VIC boasts a mosaic of video screens monitored by police officers across three shifts.

“The VIC gives APD the ability to have eyes across the city and pull video from participating stakeholders without having to own all the resources ourselves,” said Senior Police Officer Thomas R. Sutton on the Operation Shield team. “By connecting with other entities that already have camera systems in place, we save the city a huge investment in equipment and ongoing maintenance.”

While APF has no control of what camera systems other entities deploy, most of the 400 cameras owned and operated by the city are HDTV-resolution AXIS Q60 Series PTZ Network Cameras.

“With the PTZs we get excellent coverage with some models giving us full 360-degree views of the vicinity,” Sutton said.

Most city cameras are installed at intersections and street poles.

“Given that the places we deploy them don’t necessarily have the best lighting, or they have changing lighting conditions, AXIS Q60 Series’ extreme low-light sensitivity is especially useful,” said Sutton. “Plus, their optical zoom range has been phenomenal.”

Working Out the Technical Details

Integrating all the different video sources into the VIC had its challenges. Cellular companies complained that high concentrations of cameras in certain locations were draining bandwidth. Recording all the video in-house consumed an enormous amount of 4G bandwidth. Furthermore, the network outgrew the capacity of APD’s original VMS. Working out all these issues required some creative thinking.

When APF launched the collaborative initiative, the team chose to implement a dual management system: a VMS for citydeployed cameras and a separate Physical Security Information Management (PSIM) to integrate camera feeds from the mixed technologies of other stakeholders’ surveillance systems.

The open application programming interface of the city’s Axis cameras has afforded APD the ability to continuously shop for best-of-breeds solutions as technologies and security system vendors innovate and change over time.

In 2016, the team decided to migrate to the Community Connect framework, built on Genetec Federation technology that links independent video systems back to the Atlanta Police Department. Today, most cameras in the system stream directly to the cloud using Genetec’s video surveillance as a service solution Stratocast. Officers can now access private video footage as needed.

“This not only helps the VIC reduce bandwidth consumption but gives us the ability to share a particular piece of video in multiple directions such as out to other precincts or responder command posts without having to feed it through the VIC,” Sutton said.

Working Together For a Safer City

In most cases, APD only has permission from outside entities to view their video live, but not record it. Nor does APD have permission to manipulate a private entity’s cameras, but there have been exceptions.

According to Maj. Neil Klotzer, there was an incident recently where an employee at a local business was panning the area with its company’s PTZ camera and heard some gunshots. Startled by the sound, she accidentally tilted the camera in a not-so-useful direction. Since APD had been granted prior permission to control the camera remotely, an officer was able to redirect the camera to better survey the scene and capture important situational details.

“From our perspective, the more cameras we have in an area the better,” said Major Klotzer. “Operation Shield demonstrates that working together we can build a safer, more secure city for everyone. And we can do it while respecting the right to individual privacy.”

This article originally appeared in the March 2020 issue of Security Today.

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