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How Video Is Helping Eradicate Crime; and other Secured Cities Technology Breakthroughs

Bob Nilsson Director, Vertical Solutions Marketing Published 22 Nov 2016


There are now over 300 million video surveillance cameras in the world. If you are in the UK, you’re being captured on video 300 times each day. Video surveillance and related technology was the major topic of the Secured Cities Conference in Houston, Texas. Experts showed how video is reducing crime, streamlining flows through buildings and cities, and optimizing retail stores. But until now, 99% of videos have been deleted without viewing after a month of temporary storage.

Emerging video analytics is changing this. Thanks to machine learning and deep learning, it is possible to automatically extract important features and actions from video. These capabilities go way beyond motion detection, extending to rapidly counting identifiable entities like cars and people. More specifically identifying how many cars follow a particular path; or how many people enter an area. Where do they congregate or bunch up? License plate recognition (LPR) is now a basic capability.

Accurately counting cars and people

At Austin Bergstrom Airport, rental car companies are charged by the number of cars that enter and depart their parking lots each day as reported by the rental companies themselves. When the airport installed cameras with automatic car-counting capability, they found the self-reported numbers were 10x less than what the cameras reported as the actual counts. Similarly, the number of people passing through airport customs as automatically tallied by video analytics was found to be 10x more than the counts reported by human counters. 

These types of video analytics are helping to plan equipment maintenance by counting escalator and elevator traffic. The software can identify when someone slips and falls. Looking for a suspect in a green shirt? The software can isolate everyone that fits that description in real time as they move about.

The concept of heat maps that show where people spend time is proving helpful to manage traffic flows. Where should kiosks be optimally located? In an especially difficult Baltimore neighborhood, heat maps have been used to identify drug stashes and drop-off points.

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Patterns emerge from analyzing traffic flows that can be used to alert monitors to unusual and potentially suspicious activities. For example, in one airport parking lot it takes on average 45 seconds for people to find their car. Anyone taking much longer than that becomes suspicious and bears checking into. There is some inherent risk to privacy in all this surveillance and a term has been coined that incorporates the combination of extensive monitoring with control: geoslavery.

The Growing Benefits of Video Surveillance 

During Zombicon, a Fort Myers annual event that had grown to the point where it attracted 25,000 participants in 2015, a fatal shooting occurred. An eyewitness who had been recording video on his phone caught a remote, fuzzy glimpse of the commotion, but no one was ever apprehended or prosecuted for the shooting. In anticipation of a similarly-large New Year’s celebration, the city of Fort Myers is now in the midst of installing complete video surveillance across the city at the cost of $446,000.

Where ever video cameras have been installed, crime has dropped to near zero. Demand is such that several Secured City Conference presenters advised everyone embarking on video surveillance to clearly define what locations will be eligible for the installations. As soon as word gets out that a community is installing cameras, the installers tend to be inundated with pleas to install cameras in many more locations.

Wi-Fi networking at NRG Stadium in Houston (shown above) is provided by Extreme Networks. Houston is installing 580-900 cameras in anticipation of this year’s Super Bowl LI, including 65-70 in the stadium parking lot.

Where to get funding for video surveillance

Given the demonstrable benefits of video surveillance, the potential sources of funding are numerous. Stephanie Suerth, a grant manager in Baltimore ran through an extensive list of places to inquire about funding a surveillance project. Within municipalities there are both public and private sources. For projects that could improve school safety, check with the local department of education about school safety initiatives. Hospitals, health centers, convention centers, stadiums (including the naming source, the stadium authority and the team itself). Local colleges, universities, and hotels can provide funding for surveillance projects as can chambers of commerce and foundations like WK Kellogg and Abell in Baltimore.

Federal funding is available from DHS, which has provided $402M for FY2016. DOJ provides Justice Assistance Grants (JAG) and DOT provides TIGER Discretionary Grants.It’s a good idea to follow OMB for the the latest grant information. On the state level, Suerth gave examples of funding available within the state of Maryland: Governor’s Office of Crime Control & Prevention (GOCCP), Baltimore Housing, The Baltimore neighborhood of Pigtown received funding from the casino that is next door.   Some final advice: keep an eye out for notices of funding availability (NOFA), but be careful of grant writers who charge a percentage of the grant award, rather than a simple fee. Grant writing expenses are not pass through expenses, so the recipient would need to have a separate source to pay this expense.

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