Cities Zeroing in On Crime

Cities Zeroing in On Crime

With the dramatic closure of 2008, the world teetered on a brink of mass uncertainty. From recent terrorist attacks to civil unrest including the Greece, France and Dublin riots, cities today are seeing holes in their security implementations, and countless projects are being undertaken to improve public surveillance via city surveillance.

The downward spiraling economy has sparked a recession crime wave in several cities – compared to 2007, thefts in London and Wales increased by 13 percent (British Crime Survey) and bank robbery cases in New York City, by 54 percent (Society & Policy Journal). London, New York, Mexico City, Beijing and Sydney, capitals of the largest and most opportunistic cities in the world are sharpening their city surveillance systems. Globally, the video surveillance market hit US$17.7 billion in 2008, said Stan Schatt, VP and Practice Director of Wireless Connectivity, ABI Research, and growing insistence on solving and preventing an increase in crime has seen public safety as one of the points in which governments will continue to invest, despite the recession, said Avi Shabtay, VP and GM of Private and Alternate Networks Business Activity Broadband Wireless Access Division, Alvarion.

City surveillance, a convolution of sectors and parties, including crime prevention, law enforcement, transportation management, traffic monitoring and surveillance over critical points, ensures security while enabling normal life for citizens, said Shabtay. Initiators of the surveillance network must consider the mammoth challenge of establishing a system that can help these divergent organizations do their jobs and avoid conflict. At the moment, however, very few cities can boast full collaboration.

The undercurrent is to do more with less; cities are reducing camera counts and using intelligent management software and reliable networks to save time and resources. A&S explores these efforts in progress, the challenges associated and how city surveillance systems are gaining public approval and becoming the lifeblood of safeguarding a city.

Privacy Laws
In 2007 in the United States, an ABC News/Washington Post poll revealed that 71 percent of Americans approved of public video surveillance. However, concerns of invasions of privacy are quickly becoming widespread. Criticisms of cities becoming “Big Brother” societies and governments committing “Quality of Life” infractions with constant surveillance make it obvious that public consent is critical. “Law enforcement is using the technology to protect the public, not to spy on them,” said Michael Wilks, CEO of Scyron, “and governments must be cautious and vigilant that systems are used in a lawful way, or this type of technology can be very quickly discredited.”

Liberal democracies like France, Scandinavia and Denmark that previously resisted city surveillance now acknowledge that with the proper safeguards for public liberty, their cities would benefit from these types of technologies, said Wilks. As long as there is sensitivity and communication with citizens about where the cameras are positioned and why and what is being done with the information, then privacy issues can be successfully addressed, said Paul Bodell, CMO of IQinVision.

The United Kingdom, for example, is renowned for over 4.2 million cameras in urban areas that cost billions of dollars but most of these cameras are of such low quality that they have no evidential purpose, said Wilks. The challenge therefore is not about installing more cameras, it is about being able to deliver evidencial quality video footage, and analyzing, managing and sharing that information with relevant parties.

Reducing Camera Count
"Research has shown that in areas where surveillance cameras are installed, public support for the technology reduces fear of crime amongst communities. Surveillance acts as an important tool for police to detect crime and maintain law and order in high human traffic public areas such as business districts, central squares, etc,” said Oh Tee Lee, Regional Director, South Asia Pacific, Axis Communications.

Fixed megapixel cameras that have 360-degree field of view can replace up to four traditional cameras. Before megapixel cameras, it did not matter if criminals were caught on camera because quality was often so poor, said Bodell. “If you are recording to recognize faces or read license plates, you need 40 pixels per foot (132 pixels per meter), so to cover roughly 10 meters of area at a ‘forensic' level of detail, you need a megapixel camera or multiple standard resolution cameras.”

Maneuverability and Tracking
For dark alleys where assault and theft are common, installing PTZ and fixed cameras on high poles can capture and track suspicious people movement. Auto-tracking devices are based on calculations of pixel change that come from movement, and this technology is still in development, said Lee. Essentially this means that cameras can be activated to follow humans without manual intervention. Instead of placing a camera at every corner of every block, a combination of both fixed and PTZ cameras can provide valuable directional information.

For public events, mobile surveillance systems are useful and cost-efficient to safeguard a temporary area. For example, when visiting politicians or dignitaries stay at hotels lacking in security, local law enforcement personnel can set up a mobile wireless video perimeter using as few as four cameras and a wireless access point, said Peter McKee, Global Marketing Director of Mobotix. For more crowded events such as outdoor concerts or fairs, video motion detection boxes can be set so that if foot traffic fills more than 50 percent of the boxes, alarms will be sent to notify the police.

To combat drug dealing, police have to be able to watch over suspected areas without spending more money than necessary. Rather than invest in fixed surveillance systems every time they receive information tips, police can catch people loitering or cars driving by at suspiciously slow paces with mobile surveillance systems, said Stefan Van Waelderen, owner of BusSaP.

Intelligent Surveillance Systems
Surveillance is used to make cities safer and to do so there is a need to improve the efficiency of how law enforcement personnel do their jobs.

Analyzing Video
Cities hardly have enough personnel, in its IT Department or police headquarters, to monitor surveillance cameras day in and day out. For this reason, intelligent analytics and video management software can save a fortune in time and manpower.

Small gatherings of people in common areas between buildings, for example the Vivienda Public Housing Projects in Puerto Rico, use behavioral analytics to take note of people talking for more than a certain number of minutes, said Ed Troha, MD of Global Marketing, ObjectVideo. By targeting potentially illicit activity at an early stage, crime can be more easily avoided.

With a rich library of analytics to choose from, vendors such as Mobotix are making time tasking abilities possible, where users can set up different combinations of recognition and alerts for different times of the day, month or year via management software.

Other intelligent software like facial recognition can be used in conjunction with surveillance cameras mounted at government facilities or high security locations. Individual faces can be detected then compared to a database of facial images (such as watch lists), said Irmantas Naujikas, Business Development Director for Neurotechnology. Many agree that today's facial recognition software is still under development but retains great potential for future city surveillance applications, said Raymond Koh, Regional Sales Manager of Emerging Market, Axis Communications.

Managing Video
Processing vast quantities of images is a huge problem in terms of manpower, meaningful analysis and presentation in court, said Wilks. Open platform IP video management software (VMS) helps customers save time and resources, with the greatest flexibility of choice in the brands and numbers of cameras deployed, and integration with other systems or devices, said Lars Thinggaard, CEO of Milestone Systems. “With these factors in play, sophisticated VMS can automatically send an alert on a robbery in action, directly to the police, for example.”

VMS needs to be event driven, said Kim Robbins, Marketing Communications Director of DVTel. To this end, DVTel recently added a function where users can submit multiple digital data (footage from different cameras, mobile phones or other video sources, pictures and documentation) to create a case for forensic evidence. If for example, a fight breaks out in front of a night club, operators can extract all the relevant information before and after the event and organize it into a tidy evidential package to hand over to the police.

Other forms of processing and presenting video evidence include creating streams of metadata that help organizations control public spaces and essential areas such as trains stations, said Wilks. “By searching the metadata and modeling it, the source material is never touched. This is critical because the source material must retain its original format to be used in court; the minute you compress video you destroy it as evidence,” said Wilks. Currently Scyron's event management software is used by 42 U.K. police services.

To facilitate rapid police action, BriefCam offers a short synopsis of recorded video footage through simultaneous presentations of multiple objects and activities that have occurred at different times, said Gadi Talmon, VP Marketing and Business Development, BriefCam. The software is practical for rapid identification of specific objects or behaviors which cannot be automatically detected otherwise, such as street fighting. 24 hours of recorded video footage can be reviewed in about a minute, and once the object is seen by the user, the synopsis can be used as an index to the original video recording, said Talmon.

First Responders Communication
Currently the U.S. and Australia are heavily investing in city surveillance for emergency response and disaster recovery, so in the face of an incident, local law enforcement will have direct access to and communication with the scene, said McKee. Public surveillance projects in Sydney and Melbourne have been deployed since 2006 and total government spending is expected to grow over 15 percent by 2013, said Parul Oswal, Industry Analyst of Frost & Sullivan.

Internal conflict between parties such as the police and fire department could result in video footage not being sent to the right people at the right time. Because of this, unifying communication between various first responder agencies is not only critical but chief amongst the challenges of city surveillance today.

Broadband wireless technology such as WiMax delivers video streams in high resolution and is becoming a fundamental element in building city surveillance networks, dramatically improving first responders' ability to react (with the use of portable devices and rapid ad-hoc deployment). WiMax's reliable connections and high capacity overcome structural interferences between transmitters and receivers, such as buildings, said Shabtay. While fiber optic infrastructure is a sound alternative to wireless, in a large-scale city surveillance application it is expensive to lease and comes with a prerequisite of fiber availability, said Shabtay.

In Mexico, where crime has escalated to national concern, first responders' communication is of utmost importance. Police are now demanding surveillance systems and networks to converge, so that if a car is stolen in one district and is caught on camera headed towards another, police will be able to notify neighboring precincts and send the relevant video footage to their stations, said Alejandro Vega, GM Mexico, GVI Security.

Future city surveillance will feature more and more help points, providing communication between law enforcement and the public, said McKee. An example looks at Chicago recently integrating its 911 system with video surveillance so that a call made from a certain area automatically brings up cameras in that area to oversee events unfolding.

Budget Constraints
As projects increase in size, cities can deploy hundreds up to thousands of cameras, which run full time. With today's budget constraints and the trend toward "going green," lower power cameras can reduce the cost of the system in some cases, saving thousands of dollars a year, said Bodell.

Another costly chunk of city surveillance is storage. “50 percent of an installation cost is portioned to storage and most municipalities would like to save more video than they can afford,” said Lee Caswell, Cofounder and CMO of Pivot3. “For large numbers of cameras, this can turn into millions of dollars.”

Eliminating external servers and providing application failovers without dedicated servers or clustering software saves users up to 25 percent of that initial installation cost, said Caswell. With the economy shifting in grey waters, costs saved in power and storage alone could finance other projects.

Less is More
Rather than increasing the number of cameras for the sake of general monitoring, today industry players agree that lessening the presence of surveillance with fewer cameras and more intelligent systems is necessary. With durable cameras that cover wider areas and intelligent edge features as well as software, city surveillance will gradually push towards automated detection and management of events. A convergence of solutions that are event and not sensor driven will hopefully solve the current lack of communication between first responders and their access to the network and video footage. “You have to get the important information to the right people as soon as possible, so that in an emergency situation the more information first responders have, the more effective they can be,” emphasized McKee.

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