So far, one hardware store and two apartment complexes have joined the security video-sharing network the Statesboro Police Department recently launched by subscribing to the Fusus company’s service.
But the department’s leadership hopes to bring more businesses and residential complexes aboard, making video from privately owned, fixed-location cameras more quickly and readily available for investigations. The system, which Fusus advertises as a “real-time crime center in the cloud,” can also provide live video to inform officers responding to incidents still in progress.
“Often we’ll go to a scene where there’s been a crime and there are cameras but we can’t get access to the video,” said SPD Chief Mike Broadhead. “The employee will say, well, the manager has to access it. We get ahold of the manager and they’ll say, well, I don’t know how to do it, I’ve got to get my I.T. person, and then it might be four or five days before we get video of a crime, where we could make immediate use of that video if we could access it.”
Some cases, such as a deadly shooting on the bypass last year, result in detectives going to multiple businesses in an effort to find and review any relevant video. Dozens or even hundreds of hours are sometimes spent in this effort, and the new system, with sufficient participation, could free those hours for other aspects of police work, he said.
“We’re never going to be able to afford to put (security camera) infrastructure all around the city, but this infrastructure already exists,” Broadhead said. “It’s just a question of getting access to it.”
He and Deputy Chief Rob Bryan sat down in front a wall-mounted screen, displaying an interactive map of Statesboro. Bryan had the same map on a laptop computer on the table in front of him. When he clicked on a symbol for one of the so far three participating locations – Fox Ridge Apartments, the One Eleven South complex and McKeithen’s True Value Hardware – aerial-view outlines of the buildings and parking areas popped up.
Each outline showed little green icons for cameras on the buildings’ exteriors, and in the case of McKeithen’s, the number of interior cameras. When Bryan clicked on a camera icon, the view from the camera appeared on the screen. One from an apartment complex’s parking area showed cars passing on the street and leaving the parking lot, and Bryan noted that license plates would be readable.
How it works
The Fusus company, based in Atlanta, supplies a core processor, smaller than a shoebox, installed at each business or complex that wants to participate. All of the video from existing cameras at the site is connected into this processor. It converts video from different digital formats, called codecs, to a single format so that it can be viewed by police.
Each participating business or apartment company will pay a one-time cost in the roughly $600 to $1,000 range for a core, said Bryan, who traveled to the Fusus headquarters to learn how the system works. The variation in core cost is mostly for the amount of on-site storage. Typically, about a week’s worth of video can be stored on-site, with variations for the number of cameras and quality of images, he said.
When a crime occurs and police need a specific video, it will be uploaded to a secure cloud storage “vault,” Bryan said.
Large establishments with many cameras may need more than one core, Broadhead said. But each of the first three participating locations has a single core processor, and one of them is providing video from more than 20 cameras.
This one-time core purchase will be the only cost to a participating business, the police leaders said. Any upgrades in cameras and other equipment will be left for business owners to choose for themselves. The Police Department has spent about $12,000 on startup costs for its Fusus system at this point and, with city funding, will pay an annual subscription and maintenance cost, about $65,000 for the next full fiscal year, Broadhead said.
“We would like to build this out across the city,” he said. “These individual businesses own all of their own equipment, they own all of their own video. All they’re doing is agreeing to share it with us.”
SPD dispatchers will have real-time access to live video when they dispatch officers to participating locations, he said. This video would then be supplied automatically to the responding officers via laptops in their patrol utility vehicles.
“As this evolves, the officers all have on-board computers that are plenty powerful to run this video right now, and they would be able to pull up live video on their way to a scene,” Broadhead said.
Camera owners decide
Owners of participating private locations get to decide which of their cameras police can access in real time. For example, a business could provide continual access to its exterior cameras but not interior cameras.
“A lot of locations might say, ‘We don’t want you peeking inside in real time, but if there’s a crime we’ll give you access on a case-by-case basis,’ and again, that’s pretty easy for them to do,” Broadhead said.
McKeithen’s True Value Hardware has given police real-time access to its panoply of interior, as well as exterior, cameras.
But before he opened the hardware store, owner Thomas McKeithen was a police officer for eight years and worked for the department. So after viewing a Fusus tutorial, he was happy to make his store the retail business “guinea pig” for the system, he said.
During his years with the SPD, McKeithen responded to alarm calls and calls where someone driving by a business thought they saw someone inside it. So he sees a great advantage in using video to give responding officers, as well as supervisors and dispatchers, a better idea of what they will encounter, he said.
“That is a big factor for officer safety, as well as if it was a burglary or a fire or something they can get more responding officers or the Fire Department, et cetera, and give them better direction as to what they’re going into,” McKeithen said.
Privacy concerns limit where apartment complexes may legally place cameras. But in investigating crimes ranging from vandalism and thefts to murders, police are often interested in video from parking lots and open areas where people gather, as well as of building exteriors.
Broadhead recently told the mayor and council that video evidence proved decisive in solving Statesboro’s two most recent murders. The last occurred outside at an apartment complex.
Statesboro police are also working with Georgia Southern University on a proposed endorsement for apartment complexes that meet certain safety standards as student housing. This has no official name yet, but Broadhead said it might be something like a “Gold Standard Seal of Approval.”
For this endorsement, a complex would need to 1) control access to its property, 2) do good background checks on prospective tenants, 3) provide sufficient lighting in parking areas and hallways, 4) have an effective, functional camera system, and 5) share its video with police via Fusus, he said.
He also wants apartment complexes to make these measures public as a deterrent to crime.
The Fusus system also has the potential for other security camera owners, such as residents of single-family homes, to register camera locations at no cost. Registered cameras would appear on the map, and police would email neighborhood camera owners for video in the event of a burglary or other crime, Bryan said.