The Brookhaven Police Department says it is the first municipality in the state to team up with Georgia Power Co. to install video cameras and license plate readers on utility poles. The equipment is being installed as part of a test run of a new surveillance system that police say will cut down on crime.

The test run may also be the start of the city exploring the possibility of having its own video integration center, similar to the one operated by the Atlanta Police Department, where officers monitor cameras placed throughout the city to watch for trouble.

“We are looking at different options in the future for a video integration system, like the one in Atlanta … and looking to partner with APD,” Brookhaven Police spokesperson Maj. Brandon Gurley said. “But we are still in preliminary discussions and are still exploring.”

The discussion of a video integration system has moved far along now that the four cities who share the 911 service ChatComm – Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, Brookhaven and Johns Creek – may all go in together to share a monitoring center, Gurley said.

“So all can have a piece of the pie,” he said. “That’s an option that has been mentioned, if we decide to move toward an active viewing program. We will be using cameras, but in a passive way for now. … To have an active program, to watch in real time, that is a discussion to be had later down the road.”

Georgia Power officials said its “SiteView” camera system is being rolled out in select markets this spring, with plans for a statewide launch later this year.

“This is a highly customizable, optional service for customers where Georgia Power installs and maintains cameras on Georgia Power-owned, ‘lighting only’ poles on private property and leases the system to customers for surveillance or security purposes,” Jacob Hawkins, spokesperson for Georgia Power, said in an email.

Private property owners and residents living in neighborhoods can also participate in the video camera program. Georgia Power previously said those cameras will be offered only on light poles that private, commercial property owners have acquired through the company’s lighting services group division and would only be usable by the property owner.

Gurley said a Georgia Power camera was recently installed in the Historic Brookhaven neighborhood and surveillance footage can be accessed by police if needed. The police department also rolled out last year its own “Operation Plugged In” program. This program asks business owners and residents who have video surveillance camera systems to voluntarily register with BPD and allow the police department access to their camera’s websites so officers can review footage when investigating a crime.

The test run of the surveillance cameras and license plate readers, called LPRs, began May 11 and will run for three months. The equipment is provided by Georgia Power at no cost to the city. If Brookhaven police were to purchase the cameras and pay for installation software, site preparation, maintenance, system upgrades, utility fees and other such costs, the total up front cost for the cameras would be $276,000 with an annual ongoing power, internet, maintenance, licensing and data storage cost of $250,000, according to a city memo.

The city would also have to determine how long video data would be stored, Gurley said.

The test run includes posting cameras and LPRs at three sites in the city located at major “gateways” into the city.

Those gateways, Gurley said, include Buford Highway, Ashford-Dunwoody Road, Peachtree Road and North Druid Hills Road.
If the city and Georgia Power reach a formal agreement to either lease or purchase monitoring devices, the cameras can also be installed around areas with “high-crime opportunities,” such as city parks and the future Peachtree Creek Greenway, according to an April 25 memo from Chief Gary Yandura to City Manager Christian Sigman.

Georgia Power does not want to disclose its test sites, Gurley said, to ensure the surveillance equipment is not vandalized. Should Brookhaven move forward to officially participate in the program following the test run, the cameras and LPRs will be clearly marked with BPD signage, he said. Each site likely has about five or six cameras, Gurley said.

The video feeds do not come through Georgia Power; video is sent to a video recorder on-site or to third-party, cloud-based storage and the customer ultimately owns the data/feed, Hawkins explained.

“One of the options for the program moving forward is working with city governments for installation of SiteView cameras on electric utility poles on the public right of way,” Hawkins said.

“The Brookhaven Police Department engaged with us early on regarding this possibility and we are working with them to explore the potential to further customize the service to align with public safety systems they already have in place, including license plate recognition programs,” he stated.

In Yandura’s memo, he says the Georgia Power program could “dramatically expand our crime solving capacity, our crime predicting analyses, and crime deterrence capabilities through video monitoring and license plate detection facilitated by [Georgia Power].”

Similar programs have been used across the US and globally, Yandura said. More than 500,000 cameras are in use across London. And in the city of Atlanta, a camera and LPR system boasts more than 14,000 cameras, Yandura stated.

“Monitored in real time, the Atlanta system regularly alerts officers to stolen vehicles and wanted persons, and directs their response along the vehicles’ escape routes, effectively preventing police pursuits,” Yandura stated.

Last year, the BPD’s mobile LPR devices that can be used in police vehicles scanned more than 350,000 license plates resulting in nearly 6,000 alerts to stolen vehicles and wanted persons, Yandura said.

Long term, the BPD has identified locations suitable for at least 106 LPR cameras and 52 video cameras, Yandura stated. Those areas include major access points into and out of the city, and coverage at city parks and buildings.

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Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.