A video camera monitors the action in Buckhead.

Look around, wherever you are in Atlanta.

Big Brother may not be watching you just yet, but he may be soon on the way. And, it is all in the name of public safety.

Atlanta Police Chief George Turner has a goal for 2011 of beginning to set up a central monitoring center for the thousand-plus public and private surveillance cameras around the city. The cameras, he says, will help police fight crime.

“The camera system that has been in operation in Buckhead for probably eight or nine years has been a great resource the community,” Turner told a group of about 100 attending the January breakfast meeting of the Buckhead Business Association.

He said Atlanta has cameras throughout the city, but they are decentralized.

“If you look at what cities are doing around America that are successful, they are driving that feed to one centralized location,” Turner said. “You have professionals that are viewing those camera feeds and providing some crime prevention, as well as detection, that is available to route those resources to detectives that are trying to determine the individuals who have committed a crime.

“We will be setting up a robust central point for all those feeds—private and public cameras—to be driven to one centralized location.”

Turner said Atlanta’s “911 center on Peachtree Street will allow all the cameras that we are talking about, as well as a number of public cameras that we will be standing up to go through a centralized location. Ultimately, we will be able to have a professional monitoring those with a lot of analytics to allow us to monitor these thousands of cameras and be able to bring additional resources to those neighborhoods and business areas.”

The police chief said it also “will give us an opportunity to drive a feed to the responding officer so we can see exactly what he is going into. That is our ultimate goal,” he stated.

Turner said the city is doing everything it can to model the system after one that has been successful in Chicago.

“Chicago has deployed in their crime detection center some 10,000 cameras that they monitor,” he said. “Out of the 10,000 cameras that they monitor, maybe 2,500 are public cameras. The majority of those cameras are at private entities and are fed into the monitoring center.”

He said the Chicago system allows authorities to detect and send officers information they need to make decisions to respond to 911 calls.

Continuing on the subject of 911 calls, Turner said the 911 center receives 1.2 million calls annually and that “maybe 300,000 of those calls are dispatched.”

He said the rest of the calls are either not emergencies or are simply “information calls.”

Turner said other large cities have 311 call centers to answer general information calls. Atlanta does not yet have a 311 center.

“The mayor has put up some additional dollars in the budget for a study to look at starting up a 311 center,” Turner said. “That is going to be critical to our [responses] to emergencies throughout the city.”

John Schaffner

John Schaffner was founding editor of Reporter Newspapers.