Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Q&A with #Davidson PD Chief Jeanne Miller on possible new camera system

The Davidson Police Department does a great job serving our small town.  In 2014, the department received renewal of its CALEA accreditation.  In 2015, the town was ranked the 2nd safest small municipality in North Carolina - just behind fellow college town, Elon.  The town was 3rd safest overall. That's a quantitative testament to the job the department is doing.

However, the town does not have all the crime fighting tools it needs, tools that have become standard practise in most urban areas.  That would be the use of fixed surveillance cameras that can help solve crimes more quickly when they do occur.

To remedy that, the DPD has requested funding in the upcoming budget to install a system of cameras for the town.

Below is a brief Q&A with Police Chief Miller on the system and the funding request.

Q: How many cameras should we expect?  A: There will probably be 8 – 10 cameras, plus four (4) license plate readers.

Q: Are these Davidson’s first cameras?  A: These are Davidson’s first static, cameras to be installed in public space.  We have cameras in all the police cruisers; body worn cameras; and one deer camera that we’ve used for problem locations/criminal hot spots.

Q: Will they only be at entrances to town such as at Potts/Main, I77 exits and North Main, or will they be all around town?  A: We will be positioning them at the major thoroughfares entering town.  However, we would like to have at least one portable camera that can be moved to an area where we are experiencing an active crime problem.

Q: What kinds of crimes will these help solve?  Has this technology been used to help solve crimes in Town before?  A: The city of Charlotte has an extensive camera system and they have partnered with private businesses and the NC DOT to increase their camera views.  They have had great success using their camera system to close all types of criminal cases.  The city of Cornelius also has a wireless camera system and some of their video assisted us in our investigation into the fatal shooting of Jerry Kerns on June 23, 2015.  Their system also helped us in an animal abuse investigation.

Q: How long will the video captured by these cameras be kept and who monitors it?  Is that possibly outsourced, or will the town do that itself?   A: The capacity for storage is estimated to be 30-60 days.  There will not be a person monitoring the video 24x7.  However, if a hot spot is identified, we will have the ability to observe the camera view remotely.   

Q Has a vendor been selected?  The budget request of $44,442 seems rather specific  A:  We were working with a vendor who gave us that estimate.  Due to an additional desire for flexibility, we decided to explore other options that are the most cost-effective and flexible.  Nucentric Solutions (our IT provider) is assisting us in research and developing this system.  We used the estimate as a placeholder, and believe we will be able to implement a system for the same cost or less.

Some additional research shows that these types of systems can get pretty high tech.  The video is stored digitally.  Then using what is called "smart search" technology the data is parsed into time segments and analyzed to identify human activity (i.e. people walking) as well as vehicles by size, color and direction.  That data can be searched based on specific criteria.  If tag readers are used, then the system can be searched for a specific licence plate.

For example, let's say police search for a suspect vehicle that's a "red car at Exit 30 between 2am and 3am."  If the car is spotted and the tag is captured, the user can then search all camera data for that tag in the time frame before and after that time to see where that vehicle travelled.

One can clearly see how this system could be useful in solving crimes, but as importantly in discouraging them from happening if criminals think they will get caught on tape.  It should also be noted that these are not the same thing red light cameras which capture data and automatically send tickets. 

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