Controller: Problems persist with Philly police surveillance cameras

surveillance camera philadelphia
Up to 68 percent of city surveillance cameras may not be fully functional, according to the City Controller’s Office. Credit: Rikard Larma/Metro

Philadelphia’s embattled surveillance system is still ailing, with only 32 percent of cameras sampled fully functioning, according to a follow-up audit released Wednesday by City Controller Alan Butkovitz.

The announcement came nearly one year after a controller’s office audit found that fewer than half of Philadelphia’s 216 cameras were working, and three months after the City Council held a hearing discussing best practices for surveillance camera funding and maintenance after touring Baltimore’s state-of-the-art system.

Following the 2011 audit, Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison claimed 70 percent of city surveillance cameras were functioning after the city again outsourced maintenance and oversight last March.

The city further projected 90 percent of cameras would be working by September 2012.

Philadelphia did not meet its goals, according to the controller’s office.

“It is discouraging to report that only 32 percent of the sample cameras from around the city were functioning properly,” Butkovitz said Wednesday.

“This means that at any given time when crime is occurring around our city, only a third of the cameras are able to capture criminal activity.”

The controller’s office in the follow-up audit reviewed the performance of 31 randomly sampled cameras installed around the city.

Staffers found video footage captured by the non-fully functioning cameras was impeded by condensation in camera domes and lenses, had pixelated edges when cameras attempted to capture movement, or showed no image at all but merely a pink screen.

Visibility was also compromised by objects like traffic lights and trees, according to Butkovitz.

Auditors with the controller’s office joined council members for their January trip to Baltimore, where they toured the city’s surveillance system in which 97 percent of cameras are functioning at all times.

Baltimore has 7.5 times more cameras per citizen than Philadelphia despite the fact that the city has nearly 900,000 fewer residents, Butkovitz pointed out.

He further noted Baltimore operates its cameras using retired police officers, as well as two full-time technology staffers, while Philadelphia uses active police officers and has no full-time or on-call surveillance camera employees at all.

Baltimore also has a scheduled preventative maintenance plan and conducts daily camera cleanings, making necessary repairs within 24 hours, while Philadelphia has no such maintenance program and takes up to five weeks to address repairs.

“With crime occurring every day in our city, Philadelphia needs to adopt necessary measures for its surveillance cameras to function properly,” Butkovitz said.

Butkovitz recommended that Philadelphia adopt measures similar to those employed by Baltimore, ensuring surveillance cameras are regularly maintained and dedicating at least one Office of Innovation and Technology employee to manage the surveillance program full time.

“Without taking action to improve our camera system, these cameras will continue to fail our police officers in solving crimes,” Butkovitz said.

“More importantly, they will continue to fail at providing safety for Philadelphians.”


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