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How Cities and Counties Use Video For Public Safety

by SUMMIT on August 25th, 2015

How Cities and Counties Use Video For Public Safety

Today, more government and public sector departments are using video to increase public security, record evidence, and improve accountability. Police in particular are deploying different types of video cameras, such as dash-mounted and back-seat cameras for patrol cars, body cameras for officers and surveillance cameras throughout buildings. The cameras serve more purpose than just spotting criminal offenses. We have all witnessed on the Internet and on the nightly news how video can serve both the police and the public by increasing accountability and transparency.

Utility of Video Cameras for Security Purposes

For people working with public security, mainly police, EMT, fire and rescue squads, video cameras provide more than just another set of eyes. There are three key areas where cameras have the largest impact on public safety.

Evidence. In almost every interrogation room in precincts across the nation, video cameras are recording discussions with suspects and witnesses. Investigators aren’t just watching the questioning happen through two-way glass anymore, but they are viewing videos in real time from anywhere in the building or beyond. Videos have become a vital piece of evidence for police when dealing with crimes. It takes away the “he said, she said” aspect from questioning and leaves little room for misinterpretation.

Fort Collins Police Services is just one department using a sophisticated IP-based video system. Deputy Chief Cory Christensen said, “We’ve been videotaping since the mid-1980s, so it’s not a new concept for us. But we’ve gone from VHS tapes to DVDs and DVRs, so we wanted to create a system that had networked storage and daily backup.”

Despite public opinion to the contrary, many police departments welcome the use of wearable cameras. The body cams can aid in the district attorney’s ability to prosecute cases, and helps defend police against unwarranted complaints of excessive force. “It’s an uninterested third person’s view of an event and provides really good evidence,” Christensen said.

In the past two years, Fort Collins Police Services has seen a 100 percent decrease in excessive force complaints and a 24 percent decrease in overtime costs for court trials. Christensen also said that because of strong video evidence, more people are asking for plea agreements rather than pursuing trials.

Surveillance. More cities are installing video camera systems throughout their streets to monitor activity and keep people safe. Some systems allow police dispatch to watch over multiple cameras over several zones, and these cameras can even be controlled to tilt or pan if necessary. Video surveillance is working to solve crimes and help make arrests. It also acts as a deterrent in many places.

The Huntington Beach Police Department reports that since it implemented a video system, officers have better tools to deal with the city’s active beach nightlife. Officer Jennifer Marlatt said that because of the cameras, bicycle thefts have dropped to almost half as many per month.

Perimeter Security. Many government buildings also have cameras installed inside and outside and in parking lots to beef up security and prevent unauthorized entry. In some high-risk locations, such as courthouses, there is constant surveillance that is monitored in real time. Police also use video to watch suspects in and around the precinct. Midland County, Texas installed more than 250 surveillance cameras in seven buildings, including the courthouse, library, and an event arena. Midland County Network Administrator Justin Stephenson said, “It protects our assets and helps with liability for the county. As people come into our buildings, the cameras are our eyes that watch what goes on, and if someone breaks in or get hurt for any reason, we have proof of what happened.”

Wearable Cameras. Wearable cameras are gaining strength as a tool to improve transparency and accountability for both police and the public. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 25 percent of U.S. police departments are using body cameras, while 75 percent of agencies are evaluating whether to implement the technology. The ACLU is not alone when it says that with the proper policies in place, body cams are a win-win for everyone. However, there are some considerations that agencies need to decide on before rolling out the equipment.

  • Which products should be chosen?
  • How will the cameras be used?
  • How will the video footage be stored?
  • How long does the footage have to be stored?

There has been marked improvements made in the short time that wearable cameras were implemented and their use is still evolving. For instance, currently police have to find a computer on which to watch recorded footage, but a new generation of body cams available soon will tackle that hurdle and more.

The novel “1984” introduced the world to the concept of “Big Brother” watching us. Today, video cameras are such a regular part of our everyday lives, that we hardly notice them. As a tool that can help deter and prosecute crimes, video technology has been a huge boon to police agencies and the law. Virtually everything is caught on camera these days and with the right policies in place, video technology can serve to protect both the police and the public.

Photo Credit: Vladimir-911 via Compfight cc

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