Council wants city surveillance camera system to join the 21st century

surveillance cameras
Rikard Larma / Metro

A City Council committee held a hearing Monday afternoon in an attempt to sort out the state of Philadelphia’s embattled citywide surveillance camera system, which officials have been attempting to put in place since 2007.

“As with many things in Philadelphia, the city didn’t invest the money up front to get it done right,” City Controller Alan Butkovitz said of the $14 million system, which has suffered technological and oversight setbacks and so far delivered little return. “You can’t piecemeal your way into a complicated system and expect the kind of results you want.”

The meeting was inspired by a mid-January trip Council members took to Baltimore. “One of the most startling statistics we learned is that they were able to successfully reduce crime by 25 percent,” Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. said.

“That was through the use of not just technology, but triangulation between eyes on monitors, boots on the ground in the form of police officers and those cameras.”

Baltimore has through its CitiWatch program tapped into 600 private and municipal cameras citywide whose feeds are monitored in real time at a centralized command center by analysts largely comprised of retired or off-duty police officers.

“In Baltimore, the use of a public-private partnership acted as an auxiliary to cameras,” Council President Darrell Clarke said. “That’s something we want to look at here.”

He found at the hearing a number of stakeholders willing to work to make that happen. “There’s a new program just being introduced by the Commerce Department offering a rebate – I believe it’s for 50 percent of costs up to $3,000 – to encourage businesses citywide to provide information about their cameras through the SafeCam Program,” Stacy Irving of the Center City District said.

Unlike Baltimore’s program, SafeCam doesn’t allow police to directly tap into private camera feeds, but instead maps them so detectives know where to look when a crime does occur.

Irving said that idea has been floated in Philadelphia’s private sector, but was “roundly denied.”

By the numbers

 

12,089 cameras are operated by SEPTA and located across the agency’s entire transit system.

500 cameras are operated by businesses and institutions in Center City alone, according to an estimate from the Center City District.

500 new cameras will be installed by the Philadelphia Housing Authority over the next 14 months.

621 cameras are located on the University of Pennsylvania campus and operated by the school’s Division of Public Safety.

216 cameras have been installed by the city of Philadelphia. At last count, only 114 of those were working, according to Butkovitz.


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