Crime surveillance cameras in Cincinnati will get smarter next year if City Council has its way. A majority of council members made their intention clear: They would like to spend about $6 million in the next two years on digital cameras intended to zoom in on anyone who has fired a gun.
Sound sensors activate the cameras when there is a gunshot, then instantly transmit the location of the gunfire and video of the scene to the 911 dispatch center – and perhaps even into video terminals in police cruisers.
Called shot-sensor technology, the cameras have been tested in places such as Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and East Orange, N.J., with much acclaim.
Jose Cordero, director of police in East Orange, said his department bought a system in 2005 and heavily publicized the new technology in the media, particularly the neighborhoods where cameras were installed. The result is that gun crime in those areas is down 85 percent, he said.
Cordero said the camera program is responsible for most of that.
"For too long, gunshots have been part of the background noise on the street, unnoticed and unreported. Now we know when and where a gunshot occurs in seconds. We can look through our cameras toward the shooter’s location while officers are en route."
Council member Leslie Ghiz, one of the biggest proponents of the cameras, said she is soliciting help from the corporate community and is also hoping federal money is available to help with the purchase.
The cameras are just one way the police are trying to fight crime with improved technology. Other new technologies, either freshly on line or soon to become operational, include:
CopSmart. This is an expansion of information that police can access from the computers in their cruisers and an enhanced computer connection between dispatchers and police on the streets. The system allows officers to use their laptop computers in squad cars to search local, state and federal databases; transmit mug shots and Department of Motor Vehicle photos; and take and file field reports directly into the databases. "The minute officers get done taking field reports, that information is available to anyone else who might be doing an investigation," Cincinnati Assistant Police Chief Cindy Combs said. The system is coming on line in phases and should be fully functional by Jan. 1.
Cell-phone recognition. Soon, the police dispatch center will be able get the location of people calling in on cell phones. Now, the center can read the cell phone number from callers; the location enhancement should come on line within two months.
Records management system. The system will integrate all of the police databases – more than a dozen – for easier searches, providing more accurate and timely information. It will allow tracking of information from the 911 call to case closure.
Police will be able to upload information into the Regional Crime Information Center. The system will serve as a repository for field interview cards, which were a requirement of the Collaborative Agreement for traffic stops, to monitor the department on racial profiling. The system also will allow for tracking of other features of the collaborative, such as the availability and work of officers trained to deal with suspects who are mentally ill. This system is being designed now.
Police officers have been assigned as crime analysts in each of the five police districts, the traffic unit and the vice squad. They join two analysts who already work in the information management bureau and will work with mapping and analyzing data.
Police hope to start the Cincinnati shot-sensor program with about 100 cameras. Not every camera needs a sound sensor, and it is unclear exactly how many would have to be bought for the program.
"That would probably cover between 12 and 20 high-incident areas within neighborhoods," Cincinnati Police Capt. Jeff Butler said, referring to the 100 or so cameras. Such a grid would cost between $5 million and $10 million, depending on the size and scope, according to police estimates.
Butler said he is working on a detailed analysis of crime in neighborhoods that will help determine where the cameras should be located. But one feature of the cameras, sound sensors and wireless transmission system is that they are portable and can be moved around the city.
The idea is to have more cameras than sound sensors, said George Orrison, director of marketing for Planning Systems Inc., a Virginia-based engineering company that sells the sound-sensor camera systems.
"If you don’t set it up properly, your cameras could end up looking into the side of a building," Orrison said. "All of the sensors are self-contained, so you can relocate them anywhere in the city and integrate them with other cameras."
PSI offers a grid of 20 sound sensors for about $90,000. Those sensors can typically cover an area of 12 to 20 blocks. Installation costs another $35,000, and digital cameras cost between $10,000 and $25,000 each.
The real expense is establishing a fiber-optic network for the new cameras and sensors. Once the basic infrastructure is in place, cameras and sensors can be added to the network with relative ease. Butler said the police will establish a partnership with Cincinnati Bell for that work. It’s unclear how much that will cost.
Butler, who is in charge of the Police Department’s surveillance camera program, is trying to raise $1.25 million for a network of digital cameras along Glenway Avenue on the West Side. One corporate donor has given $250,000 for the project.
Butler said that network isn’t associated with the shot-sensor cameras, but sound sensors could be added later when money is available. He said the cameras, even without the sound sensors, help solve crime. In a Minneapolis case, an officer in the dispatch center tracked an armed robber for eight blocks after a victim called in to report the crime.
The cameras caught him down the street committing another armed robbery, Butler said. When confronted with the video, the robber confessed to those two crimes and five other stickups.
"The example I always use is the cell phone – is the bad guy holding a cell phone or a gun?" Butler said. "These cameras can tell us."
Mimi Hart, owner of Hart Pharmacy at Glenway and Cleves-Warsaw Pike, is on the board of Price Hill Will, a community activist organization that has been pushing for the video cameras on Glenway.
"I know there is a Big Brother concept, but people behave themselves better when there’s a possibility that they’re being watched," Hart said.
The city bought 40 surveillance cameras in 2003 as part of a pilot program in six neighborhoods that never really took off. The cameras were never useful, in part because they ran over the public Internet and were very slow, often producing "video" that was so slow that it looked more like single-frame still shots. Those cameras are no longer used.
Council member Jeff Berding said the new cameras, combined with all the other technology, will make a smarter and more efficient police force.
"Prevention will be the biggest gain," Berding said. "The bad guys will understand these cameras dramatically increase the risk they’ll get caught, so they don’t have impunity to be robbing people and shooting guns. They’ll provide a much greater law-enforcement presence in our neighborhoods and on our streets."