Surveillance video feeds from cameras installed along major roads in Sandy Springs will assist officers in combating crime.
Surveillance video feeds from cameras installed along major roads in Sandy Springs will assist officers in combating crime.

Amid the recent controversy surrounding national surveillance programs, many may not realize that jurisdictions around metro Atlanta are using integrated camera systems to record city-wide security footage.

But proponents say access to video footage is an invaluable tool for public safety.

The city of Atlanta and Sandy Springs already have these systems in place and the cities of Brookhaven and Dunwoody are considering them.

Bob Carter is the general manager of Iron Sky, the company that has helped implement these integrated video systems. He said Iron Sky builds networks for public safety technology.

Video is the most common technology, but Carter said the company also uses things like GPS software and license plate readers.

“Our solution is designed to integrate with newer and effective technologies as they become available,” Carter said. “Anything that gives officers enhanced situational awareness.”

Terry Sult, Sandy Springs’ Director of Public Safety, said the city used existing traffic control cameras for its network.

“We’re not putting that much money into cameras, we prefer to use existing infrastructure and partner with companies that already have cameras in place,” Sult said. “We’re taking advantage of those that would be going up for traffic management or sharing cameras with private companies so that we reduce the cost.”

Sult said the system features a Google map that shows where all the city’s calls for service are located.

“It shows where your patrol cars are on the map, your police cars, fire trucks, ambulances, and it also shows where the cameras are,” Sult said.

The city is now working to give backup dispatchers access to the system to give them the ability to do things like view the area where there have been reports of traffic lights out or debris in the roadway.

“We give them access to it so ideally we don’t have to send a car when we don’t have to send a car,” Sult said.

Carlos Campos, a spokesman for the Atlanta Police Department, said the department launched its Operation Shield Video Integration Center in 2011. It cost about $8 million and was paid for using money from the Atlanta Police Foundation and the federal government.

Campos said the city has access to about 1,400 cameras in areas including Buckhead, Midtown and downtown Atlanta.

“There was already a great deal of existing infrastructure in downtown that we were able to tap into. That is one of the unique aspects of the [Video Integration Center]. We have a partnership with the private sector, so these are not just city-owned cameras,” Campos said.

Campos said the system has been helpful to Atlanta police.

“For example, during major events such as the Final Four, it provided us with situational awareness on a mass scale. We were able to provide live feeds on the ground into a Joint Operations Center. It has also been helpful in monitoring other major events. We have also recorded several major crimes on the system that have helped provide evidence to investigators,” Campos said.

Sult recalled a particular incident where Sandy Springs police were able to review video footage to find a hit-and-run driver who fled the scene after hitting a cyclist.

Carter said “numerous, numerous events that have occurred, especially in Midtown, where a camera system has helped to solve crimes, identified people in the process of committing crimes. One of the most frequent ones is entering autos, people strolling the streets breaking windows. Normal everyday issues are always occurring, and you can really make an impact there.”

Bob Mullen, a spokesman for the city of Dunwoody, said the city is preparing to set up a video system in Brook Run Park later this year.

“In the past several years, Brook Run Park has experienced a significant level of crime including criminal damage to property, graffiti, and thefts from vehicles,” Mullen said.

Carter doesn’t believe security footage infringes on privacy because most recordings are taken in public places and only used in emergency situations.

“The idea is to make this information available so police can use it when they need it. They don’t have a monitoring operation. No one is sitting around watching it,” Carter said. “I think that’s the reality of it. No one is sitting around watching cameras all day.”

Sult said footage can also be used to hold police officers accountable. He said anything the city records is public record.

“The tools are two-edged,” Sult said. “I think where the balance comes in is when you’re using them for accountability as well as solving cases, that’s where the Open Records Act helps. I’m a big fan of the Open Records Act.”

Sult said the importance of technology and video footage was evident in locating the Boston Marathon bombers.

“When you think about having to be prepared in today’s age and challenges we face, with everything from active shooters to someone who can put together a pressure cooker bomb …. You’ve got to be prepared, and if you can’t prevent it, you want to have every resource possible to be able to investigate and mitigate that situation,” Sult said.