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Tuesday
Feb242009

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Chicago's Quest For Perfect Municipal Surveillance


As previously discussed, since its launch in 2001, Chicago's Operation Virtual Shield and its network of public surveillance cameras has consistently been billed the most advanced deployment of intelligent video in the nation. This week, the city announced that as a result of recent increased funding the project is now linked to the city's 911 system, an integration that makes the grid unlike any other in the country.

With a $6 million grant from the DHS, Chicago's computer-aided dispatch emergency system can now see real-time video if there is a surveillance camera within 150 feet of a 911 call. It was officially deployed after a trial run in December, during which live video caught a petty thief sticking his hand into a Salvation Army kettle outside of a Macy's when a bystander called 911 to report the crime.

Nonetheless, the network still has its share of flaws and areas demanding improvement.

The Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications maintains that only about 95 percent of the network's cameras are working at any given time. This statistic was at the forefront of headlines just last week when a camera in the southeast Chicago was unable to capture footage of three teens were slain directly in front of it. While the camera's blue light was functioning, technicians thus far have been unsuccessful in downloading footage -- that is, if it even exists.

As this instance demonstrates, the importance of maintaining existing infrastructure while installing more advanced, integrated capabilities simultaneously is vital to the success of any surveillance grid. How effective are cameras at fighting crime when they aren't operating? Department spokesmen note that this neighborhood is not yet on the most updated wireless network, where a connection can be established to send an alert when the camera is down.

From my point of view, however, it’s tough to find fault with a city focusing its surveillance and emergency resources on actual crimes reported by citizens. I’ll take that over red-light cameras and anti-dog-pooping surveillance any day. And in a city that’s often been criticized for its slow response to 911 calls in many of its Chicago neighborhoods, the ability to instantly assess a potential emergency will almost certainly save lives -- if the systems are functioning properly.

Integrating all cameras to operate wirelessly, as well as updating all "record on sight" cameras to enable live monitoring at the city's operations center are crucial steps Chicago must take in order to continue its leadership in municipal surveillance. If that's not enough incentive, it seems likely that Mayor Daley's team will make the necessary improvements as an argument in favor of the city's preparedness to host the 2016 Olympics.

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  • Response
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