City-wide surveillance networks and systems are a hot topic in law enforcement. But how do you know where to begin when there’s enough new stuff out there to make your head spin? Like most things in law enforcement, it takes organization and communication to get first-rate surveillance programs off the ground.

When we talk about leveraging large-scale video surveillance systems today, questions abound: what to use, how to integrate systems, how to store data and who will review. Perhaps the biggest question of all is, “Is it a viable purchase for my jurisdiction?”

In 2011 the Department of Justice released the report “Study: Evaluating the Use of Public Surveillance Cameras for Crime Control and Prevention” where it looked at the impact of public surveillance cameras used for crime control purposes in D.C., Chicago and Baltimore; the goal was to illustrate the many ways in which cameras can be implemented and used by jurisdictions, and suggested that these differences affect the degree to which cameras reduce crime.

According to the study, public surveillance tech can indeed be useful for preventing crimes, aiding in arrests and supporting investigations and prosecutions. It reads, too, that “cameras, when actively monitored, have a cost-beneficial impact on crime with no statistically significant evidence of displacement to neighboring areas. However, in some contexts and locations these crime reduction benefits are not realized.”

Of course, cameras alone can never be a silver bullet, and various regions of the country utilize them with mixed results. As this study notes, “public surveillance technology is only as good as the manner in which it is employed.” It’s no big secret cameras need to be used alongside community-oriented problem-solving strategies and intelligence-led policing. Therefore best practices in use, integration and management are a big part of it.

In this issue, you can read about police departments in Elgin, Ill.; Philadelphia and others who instituted formal programs to register and share footage with surveillance cameras with businesses and entire cities. In some places, video from school cameras feeds into a police station’s transportation center where it can be monitored at all times.

You can also get tips on storing video footage in Ray Heineman’s article “You can afford to store your surveillance data”. Yes, cloud-based services are holding their own in terms of security and data integrity, but don’t throw away your tape just yet. It turns out tape saves power and cooling costs over disk systems, and boasts a 30-year shelf life.

Another place to find information on city-wide surveillance systems is at the Secured Cities conference in Baltimore coming up this November. The meeting grounds for security technology providers, municipal government and emergency responders was designed to help these practitioners better navigate the changing landscape of surveillance tech. Its conferences and exhibits focus on staffing, best practices and lessons learned by those in the trenches.

In this field, too, it is evident that technology is always in flux, but learning is forever.

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