You have probably noticed the numerous police cameras sprouting like futuristic mushrooms from telephone polls throughout our neighborhoods. Several Buckhead neighborhoods have been directly funding these cameras at $15,000 each over the last year. We decided to investigate whether they are actually working.
Operation Shield, began in 2007, is a security surveillance program that enables the Atlanta Police Department to proactively deter crime with the use of “blue light” video cameras that capture footage and read license plates. The Buckhead CID later partnered with the Atlanta Police Department and Atlanta Police Foundation to bring this system to Buckhead in response to growing concern over targeted crime in the area.
More recently, residents from ten Buckhead neighborhoods have raised funds to place cameras at key points throughout their neighborhoods.
“The Operation Shield camera system is first and foremost designed to provide a strong measure of deterrence against crime. We install highly visible cameras with a blue light that is illuminated as well as signage indicating a camera in the area. This strategy sends a strong message to the criminal element that the area is heavily surveilled and recorded, creating the desired deterrent effect. Cameras strategically installed have shown a significant reduction in crime over a twelve month period in Buckhead,” explains Atlanta Police Foundation CEO, Dave Wilkinson.
Do they work?
With the tremendous community support and time to test effectiveness, have the cameras done their job?
“It works, and more are needed,” says Jim Durrett, Executive Director of the Buckhead Community Improvement District (CID).
Within the first year of the cameras’ installation, Operation Shield has seen a 22% decrease in crimes committed in Buckhead, and residents are feeling safer already. When measuring the effectiveness of the program, it’s easy to assume the police department would do this by arrests, but Wilkinson says it’s actually by the percentage of crime reduction in the surveilled areas.
“Your ultimate goal in any security plan is to hope the crime never takes place,” explained Wilkinson. “A strong deterrence plan is the most important thing, followed quickly by a strong technology plan. We feel like we have the best of both worlds here. We’re trying to saturate Buckhead and make it the most highly surveilled business and residential area in the country.”
While some residents have raised concerns about respecting privacy, the overwhelming feeling in these neighborhoods is that if the cameras ultimately prevent criminal activity, they’re welcome. Ben Hirsh, Buckhead Realtor, and resident of the Paces neighborhood, offered that; “I’m not concerned about neighborhood surveillance. The program is great because the crime we have in Buckhead is consistently property crime from people who are not from Buckhead. They come here because it’s a wealthy area with nice homes, and they figure that they’re going to do better here than elsewhere. It becomes harder to catch them because they don’t have connections to the area. It’s great that we’ve been able to participate in crime prevention by funding these cameras and directly affecting our quality of life.” said Hirsh.
The Operation Shield cameras feed into the APD Video Integration Center system which currently has over 8,000 cameras. When a resident makes a 911 call in the area, the closest four cameras begin to play footage from the area and display to the officers from five minutes prior to the actual 911 call. These cameras provide APD with immediate situational awareness, allowing the investigation to commence while the caller is still on the line.
Worried about your unpaid parking ticket signalling a response from the cameras? Only tag numbers of stolen vehicles and cars associated with violent crime are entered into the system so that the Atlanta Police Department is able to efficiently respond to activity.
“The bottom line is this– the license plate readers are there to alert the police department if stolen vehicles come into the area. Then secondly, if a crime has taken place, they will also immediately tell the police officers of the tags in the immediate area,” said Wilkinson.Stopping the Bad Guys
In the time since their installation, the Operation Shield cameras have prevented or helped solve crimes nearly every day in the Buckhead area. An hour and a half before his interview, Wilkinson was alerted of an arrest made because of the cameras.
“One of the cameras hit on a stolen video at Sidney Marcus and GA 400 in Buckhead. The driver has a long rap sheet of many violent crimes, and they’re booking him into the jail as we speak. Without those cameras, no one would’ve known he was driving through Buckhead,” said Wilkinson.
“The assumption is he stole the vehicle to come up into Buckhead and commit some crimes. They probably just thwarted a burglary and or robberies in Buckhead. There are two or three of those cases going on every week in Buckhead.”
“We’re getting ready to install another $750,000 worth of cameras in Buckhead’s business district. Within the next four months, those cameras will all be up. Those installations are part of phase one, so over the next year, you’ll see a lot of cameras going up there,” said Wilkinson.
Thanks to the vigilance of Buckhead residents and the leadership of District 8 representative Yolanda Adrean and District 7 representative Howard Shook, the technology and sophistication of this program will only get better.
“This network is rapidly becoming the most robust and sophisticated in the U.S., and we are just getting started,” said Wilkinson.
Photography: Courtesy of Atlanta Police Foundation