Counting Cameras in Downtown Vancouver

Click below to watch a short clip from the CTV News last night regarding an initiative by the Vancouver Public Space Network to count the number of surveillance cameras in Downtown Vancouver. According to the VPSN website, the purpose of the count is to “inform the public, and to discuss surveillance issues with city hall and the police. We will also use the maps to create an art installation sometime in the fall..”

I’m quite confident that whatever number that they end up with, it will still be much lower than the actual number.

The image quality of most new surveillance cameras is increasing almost as fast as equipment costs are coming down. As a result, the number of cameras in both public and private spaces will only increase. With or without the 2010 Olympics, there will be many more cameras in Vancouver by this time next year. The vast majority of them will be installed on private property, but will be viewing (at least partially) public spaces. I don’t see any reason why this trend will not continue.

the ‘privacy’ issue

In terms of the privacy concerns, I believe that the law is already pretty clear. You cannot film someone where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Therefore, no filming in washrooms, changing rooms, staffrooms or other similar places. Anyone who gets caught violating people’s privacy in that way can face some serious consequences. “Privacy” in a public space… like a sidewalk or storefront is a very different matter and hasn’t existed in a very long time.

The real question is how is all of this technology is being used… and, most importantly, is it offering any real value in preventing crime.

I’ve posted on this blog before about why the vast majority of CCTV installations do not provide a deterrent to crime. The reality is that most CCTV systems simply provide a really frustrating video recording of your stuff being stolen… which you’ll watch hours after the crime occurred.

In the CTV clip below, I demonstrate how using video analytics can help turn a ‘regular’ CCTV system into a much more effective crime prevention tool by analyzing suspicious behaviour. By doing so, the CCTV system stops being a passive recorder of activity and, instead, becomes a pro-active tool that alerts responders to criminal activity just as it’s starting… not simply providing a record of it hours after it’s over.

We use this technology for many of our residential and commercial clients. In the example shown in the CTV clip, the system is programmed to detect someone standing right up against our showroom windows. Anytime this happens, the system creates an alarm (in the same manner that a motion detector or glassbreak sensor would trip an alarm on the inside) and a signal is sent to our 24/7 Operations Centre where our team can immediately review the live video and determine if a response is required.

We have this technology set up on clients property to create alarms whenever someone climbs over a fence, in retail stores when someone is standing for too long in front of the door after-hours as well as in office towers to detect unusual activity in hallways when the building is supposed to be empty.

Without question, the technology allows us to offer a much higher level of security for our clients and eliminates the need for a human being to sit and watch hours of live video footage in the hopes of watching a crime transpire.

Of course, like most other technology, it’s all about the human response.

Unless someone is set-up to provide immediate response to what has been detected, it’s of little value. That’s where our guaranteed five minute response comes in. Video analytics can be a very important part of your overall security system… often, using analytics allows us to respond to an alarm while a crook is still thinking of breaking in rather than after he has already successfully gained access.

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