How Atlanta Increased Security by Sharing Surveillance
Atlanta’s Operation Shield Video Integration Center (VIC) started with a mere 17 city-funded cameras three years ago.
Atlanta’s Operation Shield Video Integration Center (VIC) started with a mere 17 city-funded cameras three years ago. Now, it has access to more than 1,800 cameras across three main neighborhoods: Buckhead, Midtown and Downtown. The city wasn’t responsible for shelling out all of the funding for those surveillance cameras, however; it relied on public-private partnerships.
Businesses, community groups and infrastructure in these areas of Atlanta have come together to share access to their surveillance cameras in what the VIC’s Sergeant M.L. Ellis calls “the future of law enforcement.”
According to William Pate, the CEO of the Atlanta Convention Visitors Bureau, the felony crime level in Atlanta is nearly down to 1969 levels (32,095 felony crimes in 1969; 34,581 in 2012), largely in part to new initiatives from the Atlanta Police Department and a focus on crime prevention, instead of just investigation.
The Atlanta Police Foundation and the Atlanta Police Department partnered with the Atlanta Security Council, Central Atlanta Progress, Atlanta Downtown Improvement District and Midtown Appliance to launch Operation Shield in April 2007, blending a new two-way radio security communications network for Operation Shield members, emergency text alerts and the Video Integration Center (VIC). Through the VIC, private-sector enterprises can join the program for a small licensing fee, and tie their exterior surveillance cameras into the VIC network. Or, if they prefer, enterprises (especially small businesses or residential complexes) can lease a camera from the police department or another proprietary business.
Through the system, a police officer in the monitoring center, which is conveniently located next to the emergency call dispatching center, can click on an incident reported by a 911 call or a police report and quickly generate the four cameras closest to that incident. From there, they can send additional information to responding officers, provide context on the incident to the business where the situation took place, and log the crime data for future reference.
This gives more information to officers, which in turn enables them to handle crime before it happens or progresses, says Sgt. Ellis, by working with predictive policing methods and video analytics.
Officers in the VIC can see where crime has happened recently, and can request more officer patrols to mitigate crime in the future. The officers working the center have experience in a variety of beats – one officer might have a drug trafficking investigations background, while another is very familiar with the crime trends of a very specific neighborhood. This helps them to better communicate with officers over when something doesn’t look right.
But what’s in it for local businesses? According to Sgt. Ellis, the program helps tourism and reduces crime – a major draw to enterprises that have sunk millions of dollars into Atlanta landmarks, including the Georgia Aquarium, the CNN Center, TSA systems and Hartsfield Jackson International Airport, and even MARTA, the Atlanta area’s TSA Gold Standard-ranked transit authority.
In his role as the Emergency Preparedness Unit Coordinator at the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), Monty Montgomery works to ensure that the mass transit system is prepared for any sort of emergency: “Outside of aviation, ground transportation is at greatest risk of a terrorist attack,” he says. In working on plans for MARTA’s new Emergency Operations Center (EOC), having a video monitoring room large enough to accommodate a partnership with Atlanta’s VIC was imperative.
MARTA’s 1,200 cameras are shared with the VIC, and due to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the City of Atlanta, operators in the MARTA control room can view the VIC cameras as well, which helps them track suspects even when they leave MARTA property, reporting movements to the police to help them with apprehensions.
In its M*PACT (MARTA Police Proactively Attacking Crime Trends) program, MARTA is in the process of installing a vehicle security system project for its own proactive security. The program, backed by $9 million from the Department of Homeland Security, would install 11 cameras on every large bus, and eight on each other MARTA mobility vehicle, both on the interior and exterior. According to Montgomery, this has led to a precipitous drop in the number of false claims, such as curbside allegations of being hit by buses, when instead the alleged victim purposefully fell, posing as if struck.
The on-vehicle cameras also have triggers to tag video for review, such as when a bus exceeds a certain speed, and those tagged incidents are automatically uploaded, notifying monitors who can then activate a live view. With these protections in place, MARTA opted out of installing driver cages in favor of cameras.
“Operators fought the cameras originally, but they’ve even seen the drop in assaults,” Montgomery says. Passengers can view a monitor and signage in the buses, which serves as a deterrence factor as well.
Want to see MARTA’s new Emergency Operations Center for yourself?
Join the Professional Tour on Sunday, September 28, through ASIS International’s 60th Annual Seminars and Exhibits in Atlanta. The tour will touch on MARTA’s responses to cybersecurity, public awareness programs and annual full-scale exercises, including live explosives.
For more information, please click here.
For more insight into successful public-private partnerships, check out Security magazine’s August cover story, “Public, Private and DHS: Meeting Interests, Needs and National Security,” for insight from recently appointed Department of Homeland Security Under Secretary for Defense and Analysis Francis X. Taylor.