Around 250 surveillance cameras in the Atlanta Police Department’s “Operation Shield” crime-fighting network were dead for months starting last fall, with some still down in early February, after a maintenance contract blunder.
“They were all over the city,” said Dave Wilkinson, president and CEO of the Atlanta Police Foundation, the private group that helps fund and manage Operation Shield, about the dead cameras. The problem was the city’s failure to pick up the maintenance duties and bills after initial, three-year contracts expired, he said. “This was probably a bump in the road we should have expected,” he added.
The dead devices were just a small portion of the roughly 10,600 public and private surveillance cameras plugged into the Operation Shield network that officers view at a central office. But that still meant 250 spots around Atlanta with a false sense of security and none of the expected video evidence that Operation Shield officers use to dispatch patrol cars or investigate crimes.
And that’s on top of the other cameras that are broken or worn out at any given time. Of the small percentage of Operation Shield cameras directly owned by the city – 716 – a total of 53 were shut down for maintenance or upgrades or were “just plain not working” as of Feb. 20, according to APD spokesperson Carlos Campos.
The maintenance contracts for the 250 cameras appear to have fallen between the cracks of the three agencies with Operation Shield administrative duties: the foundation, APD and the city government. It appears there is no single employee who tracked contracts across the jurisdictions. Wilkinson said the quick fix was to have the foundation retain maintenance supervision of the cameras, while the city will still pay for the work.
It’s a solution that will be tested again, because the 250 cameras were just the first batch to have expiring contracts, with many more privately funded cameras soon to pass into city maintenance responsibility.
“We have a regular cadence of those cameras [that] will be rolled over to the city of Atlanta,” said Wilkinson.
At the same time, the APD’s surveillance system is growing ever larger and more technically demanding, and not just by the continual addition of cameras to Operation Shield. Wilkinson said the foundation and APD are now working on a program called “Operation Aware” that would link cameras and such databases as recently scanned license plates, vehicle registration records and criminal rap sheets to start suggesting possible suspects almost automatically in a “real-time crime center.”