Use of Security Cameras to Combat Crime; Privacy Concerns Addressed

The plague of fires in our neighborhood has some residents asking if security cameras will help. Mount Holyoke recently deployed a system from Cernium:

Reston, Va. – March 25, 2009 – Cernium Corporation, the leading developer of video analytics-enabled products, announced today that Mount Holyoke College has selected Cernium’s Perceptrak® advanced video analytics software, integrated with Milestone XProtect™ Enterprise IP video management software, to enhance the security of its South Hadley, Massachusetts campus.

“Perceptrak meets Mount Holyoke’s objective to increase public safety and security in open areas and key facilities,” said Stephen Graham, president and general manager of Cernium’s Systems Division. “We are very pleased to provide a cost-effective, scalable, integrated solution along with Milestone that can easily accommodate surveillance system growth and changing security requirements.”

Perceptrak optimizes safety, security and operational effectiveness. It analyzes video from security cameras 24×7 for events of interest and adds metadata about the content, enabling organizations to monitor, manage, distribute, store and query video in a powerful new way. Security operators are alerted in real time only to situations that require attention, and a robust database of events simplifies searches for critical video information during investigations.

“Perceptrak provides our campus community with an additional layer of security,” said Doug Vanderpoel, director, auxiliary services at Mount Holyoke College. “The intelligent video technology immediately alerts security personnel to suspicious activity, allowing for a more proactive response to potential incidents.”

Milestone XProtect open platform IP video management software makes it possible to manage an unlimited number of cameras. Reliable and easy to use, XProtect allows operators to centrally, locally or remotely view live or recorded video from multiple locations simultaneously. Perceptrak works seamlessly within this environment to offer powerful analytics capabilities that help achieve safety and security objectives.

“The deployment of Perceptrak together with XProtect illustrates how Milestone is the open platform company for integrations that deliver real added value. Making video installations more intelligent translates to greater protection for the people and property of this campus,” said Eric Fullerton, president of Milestone Systems Inc.

Other institutions of higher education across the United States utilizing Perceptrak to improve campus safety and security include Johns Hopkins University and the University of Minnesota Twin Cities Campus in Minneapolis.

The city of Portsmouth in the UK is using a similar system:

“I’ve been working on the CCTV system since 1991,” [Portsmouth’s CCTV manager Ray Stead] explained. “We thought about it for four years, preparing Case Studies and planning ahead. For me, that’s what has made the system so strong. Portsmouth City Council bought the CCTV out of capital funds, not grants, and as a result we have genuine and real ownership of the whole set-up. There’s still cross-party support for the CCTV system, which first went ‘live’ in April 1996.”

“We have to monitor a very large range of incident types,” Stead continued. “As a result of that, we work with all of the established ‘prosecuting’ agencies including the Fire Brigade, the police service, Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue. We watch shopping centres, bars and residential areas. We’re also involved in traffic management and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR).”

…Perceptrak employs the latest software to analyse images, using anything up to 18 pre-defined criteria such as ‘converging people’, ‘fast car’ and so on. When that software detects something untoward happening, the system sends an alert to the Control Room. This allows the security officers on monitoring duty to make a human decision concerning whether or not to watch the scene and calculate an appropriate and meaningful response. It also ensures that many more scenes are being watched than is normally possible. In this way, the system helps to make Portsmouth a safer and far more trouble-free zone…

Stead opined: “Perceptrak allows us to monitor areas that we cannot justify monitoring live all the time, and thereby improves the efficiency of our live monitoring across the city. For example, the operators might be watching the bars and clubs on a Friday evening as this is where the greatest potential for incidents to take place will be, while the Perceptrak system would be monitoring the quieter areas. The car parks, stairwells or corridors in buildings and the city centre ‘streetscape’ during the hours of darkness.”

…Perceptrak has already been used in parts of seven cities across America, in places like New York and Washington DC. Again, the feedback has been extremely positive.

UMass Amherst utilizes security cameras and has published these guidelines on their use to address privacy concerns:

The following are the UMPD standards for the responsible use of security cameras in public areas.

The UMPD seeks to enhance public safety and security and our community’s quality of life in a professional and ethical manner, consistent with accepted legal rights of privacy.

The objectives of the current security camera program include:

  • Enhancing community safety
  • Preventing and deterring crime
  • Reducing the fear of crime
  • Identifying suspects of criminal activity
Initial and ongoing needs assessments will be conducted.

Information that the UMPD obtains with the use of the video cameras will be used exclusively for safety and law enforcement purposes and will be handled according to the police department’s rules governing the handling of evidence.

There will be periodic dissemination to the campus community describing the location of all video cameras.

UMPD employees shall receive appropriate training, including but not limited to, the ethical limits of using video equipment and instruction on applicable civil and criminal laws.

UMPD personnel will monitor new developments in relevant law and in security industry practices to ensure that camera use at UMass Amherst is consistent with the highest standards and protections.

Recorded images will be stored for a period not to exceed 30 days and will be erased unless retained as part of a criminal investigation, court procedure, or other bona fide use.

See also:

Fox 25: “Arson in Fitchburg caught on tape” (10/26/09)
Early Saturday morning, home surveillance cameras caught a person using an accelerant to set fire to the trash, nearly setting the house on fire.

Buffalo Police Department: “City Surveillance Cameras Lead to Blockbuster Fire Arrests” (2008)
Following the fire, that occurred just after 11:30pm on October 16th; investigators were immediately helped by the city’s surveillance camera system. The camera located at Elmwood Avenue between Auburn and Cleveland Avenues provided authorities with clues that eventually led to the arrests of the two suspects.

High-tech camera to catch arsonists (12/28/07)
The camera will automatically detect smoke plumes and can assess the size, temperature and speed of the fire before crews have even left the station.

It sends a signal to an operator who zooms in, hoping to catch the arsonist’s faces.

Danish housing complex stops arson and vandalism using access control and fire alarms integrated with Milestone open platform IP video surveillance
“More than 20 arson incidents over several days necessitated the installation of video surveillance within a very short period of time.” – Muhammed Aslam, Foreman for Mjolner Park’s housing association…

Muhammed Aslam explains that both the fires and vandalism cost enormous amounts of money for the insurance company and the Mjolner Park housing association. In the first half year of 2004 the insurance company had to pay out about 500-600,000 crowns. Furthermore, the residents were really scared and increasingly insecure in their living environment…

Both the employees and the residents are very happy with the new system – they feel safe again.