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Community Cameras Supplement PD Systems

Chicago and New York law enforcement nets pull in private CCTVs.

Police departments nationwide are looking to integrate privately owned closed circuit televisions (CCTVs) used for security into the video surveillance networks of police forces.

The original pod design. Photo courtesy of Antimodular Research by Robin Berger

“There is a private sector interest in just about every major city,” said Roger Rehayem, a principal at IBM’s Digital Video & Physical Security group. Rehayem was IBM’s representative on the Chicago initiative. “Many cities are looking into, or have already initiated, a private sector initiative.”

Optimally, feeds would be remotely accessed in real time. Rehayem said the three biggest challenges are infrastructural (the data pipe connection); technological (compatibility software); and legal (memorandums of understanding and hierarchies of control regarding the footage and camera operation).

Although the best data pipe is fiber-based, followed by a wireless connection, he said the most likely choice is through the Internet, which already has established points of connection.

When accessing a private surveillance system, the need is “to establish very secure links, and then provide enough bandwidth,” Rehayem said. The link is “not on the open Internet,” so there is a need for “a very tight tunnel between the two points,” and for “a pipe large enough for video,” he said.

Compatibility issues crop up when proprietary video management systems (VMS) running the private CCTVs do not communicate with law enforcement VMS. When that occurs, it necessitates the installation of software, and occasionally hardware, to convert the data stream generated by privately owned cameras to the format used by the police force accessing the CCTV, Rehayem said. “IP cameras tend to be more compatible,” he added.

If the video is VMS accessible, control of the panzoom- tilt functions is generally not a problem, but only if the private sector allows it. VMS implements hierarchical access, Rehayem said.

Chicago and New York have the two most robust systems in the nation.


On Nov. 9, 2010, at an honorarium at the Police Museum, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly discussed the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative (LMSI). Unveiled in 2006 at a projected cost of $81.5 million (90 percent funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security), LMSI seeks to build a network of security cameras, license plate readers and weapons sensors with most of the cameras privately owned.

The newer pod design for the latest generation of cameras. Photo courtesy of Bill Short The LMSI’s goal “is to make the 1.7 square miles south of Canal Street the safest business district in the world, and we’re well on our way to doing that,” said Kelly, who added, under the initiative, at least 3,000 cameras will be networked together.

However, Kelly listed the difficulties in achieving the LMSI’s goals. He said New York’s topography did not easily lend itself to that agenda, nor did melding the various formats and capacities of the private CCTVs. “Meshing them together is not an easy thing to do,” Kelly said. In addition, there are funding issues. “Every year is a bit of an arm wrestle, but right now we have an additional $18 million for the 2010 fiscal year. We need another at least two years of funding and then we need maintenance money to keep it going.” By press time, the budget had increased to $201 million.

In February 2009, 300 cameras were active in the LMSI, and in June 2010, there were 450 cameras. By November 2010, there were “more than 1,300” active cameras in the LMSI (500 of them subway station cameras), according to Jessica Tisch, director of policy and planning for the NYC Police Department’s Counterterrorism Bureau. Tisch attributes the recent growth spurt to the new infrastructure support system that was installed last summer. “Now that we have the infrastructure in place, it’s quite simple to add cameras,” she said. It is also easier to monitor those cameras, because in early 2010, the NYPD began using advanced video analytic software in select cameras feeds.


Although no exact official numbers were cited, sources estimate that Chicago’s Operation Virtual Shield (OVS) links up 10,000 cameras from a variety of integrated sources. These include about 900 police observation devices; cameras provided by the Department of Aviation, at the airport); CCTVs from Chicago’s Transit Authority; the Park District; city college; public schools, which provide at least 5,000 surveillance cameras; and private security cameras.

The private security camera initiative was begun about three years ago, said Jonathan Lewin, managing deputy director for public safety information technology at Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management. He said the initiative’s purpose is to provide “additional situational awareness” to law enforcement officers, as well as video for post-event investigation. The program’s goal is to make camera registration easy for the private sector and to seamlessly integrate all available cameras from all available sources.

Cameras must be Internet protocol (IP)-based and have a status ID address. The Chicago Plan website – – facilitates registration, providing the memorandum of understanding allowing city police access to the footage, plus prompts for a description of the camera systems, number and type of cameras, how long the video is retained, owner contact information, and the option to bequest a remote link.

“The system allows for a remote link if the owner agrees,” Lewin said. “If not, we can go to the contact and retrieve it. Even if we can’t remotely access the cameras, it still saves the investigator time – without this we’d have to do a neighborhood canvas to see if there’s a system installed nearby.”

Monitoring the images collected by the pod cameras. Photo courtesy of Bill Short Like its New York City counterpart, the system also includes sensors and vehicle license recognition systems. The latter, from PIPS Technology, headquartered in Knoxville, Tenn., delivers data using police vehicles with built-in computers and roof-mounted cameras.

“It can generally scan about 3,000 plates per hour,” said Lewin. “It compares the scanned license plates with a database of vehicles that have been reported stolen, or vehicles [whose] owners are wanted on a criminal warrant. Since we implemented that system four years ago, it has scanned over 10 million license plates, and resulted in over 700 arrests (and) over 1,000 vehicles have been recovered.”


Lewin said the biggest challenge for OVS is having enough bandwidth to transmit video from remote sites. Fiber is used whenever possible, and a patchwork of technology alternatives have been implemented to tap more bandwidth. That includes everything from microwave to mesh networks to the Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX) and “cellular (evolution, data only, optimized) EVDO,” Lewin said. “We’re exploring new wireless technologies. We’ll be doing some testing in the 800 megahertz (MHz) space (in addition to the 4.9 gigahertz [GHz] currently allocated to the Public Safety Spectrum for the time being).”

The mesh networks ferret out more bandwidth by reconfiguring themselves around broken or blocked paths; the WiMAX telecommunications protocol has added efficiencies that enhance fixed and mobile access over considerable distances; and the EVDO—a standard for high speed broadband—optimizes the allocation of bandwidth among various devices.

Other plans for the initiative include increased use of analytics, integration of additional cameras, new technologies for gunshot detection, and mobile device software to enable officers to receive video as well as transmit it to HQ.

“We are testing 200 Blackberries that can receive video, so that the officer can not only view, but also control – zoom in on – the video,” Lewin said. “Genetec provided the BlackBerry client application,” he added.