The leader of the Atlanta Police Foundation told neighborhood groups in Buckhead if they purchase security cameras, Atlanta police will monitor them from the department’s integrated video center.
Dave Wilkinson, President and CEO of the Atlanta Police Foundation, told representatives of Buckhead neighborhoods attending the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods meeting on Nov. 14 that the Atlanta Police Foundation is hoping to get neighborhoods involved in the effort to reduce property crimes.
“We’re really looking for neighborhoods right now that want to partner with us to install these cameras,” he said.
If neighborhood groups purchase their own cameras or license plate readers, he said, police can access video footage or license plate information to help them catch criminals who may try to enter or exit neighborhoods.
Wilkinson said the effort was part of the Atlanta Police Department’s efforts to stay at the forefront of police technology. He said the city’s security camera system, license plate readers, and predictive policing programs put the department ahead of many major cities.
“The city of Atlanta is on the cutting edge of this technology. We’re leading this technology,” he said.
Wilkinson said he expects to have 11,000 cameras tied into the city’s network over the next two to three years.
Atlanta has a partnership with the private sector called Operation Shield, which allows the police department to monitor existing security cameras at its Video Integration Center.
Using privately funded cameras along with cameras purchased by the city has allowed the police save costs while maintaining a strong network, he said.
“Providing a camera, we feel, is the next best thing to having an officer on the street,” Wilkinson said. “The reality of it is, it’s very expensive.”
Cameras typically cost between $8,000 and $10,000 and license plate readers go from $6,000 to $8,000, depending on the infrastructure that’s in place.
Wilkinson said a major benefit of the cameras is that they are integrated into the 911 call center, which allows dispatchers to immediately see footage from the four closest cameras to an emergency call.
“The ultimate goal is they’re able to have eyes on the scene immediately and they can begin their investigation while you’re still on the phone,” Wilkinson said.
Major Van Hobbs, precinct commander for Atlanta’s Zone 2, which covers Buckhead, said he sees a lot of potential in predictive policing software. The software, called PredPol, uses data patterns such as the type of crime, location, and time of day to predict where crime is likely to occur. Then officers can do directed patrols in those areas in the hope of preventing crimes from ever occurring.
Hobbs said in Zones 4 and 6, where the program has been tested, crime rates have gone down.
“It’s been very successful,” Hobbs said. “I’m expecting good results.”
Along with new technology, the Atlanta Police Department is also increasing its manpower.
Police Chief George Turner said five new officers are headed for Zone 2 before the end of the year. The new hires come as part of a push to reach a milestone of 2,000 officers in the department in 2014.
“Our crime is clearly down to 50-year historical levels,” Turner said. “We’ve grown the largest police department in the history of this city.”
Turner feels the department has come a long way since he became chief about four years ago.
“When I took over as chief we really had morale issues,” Turner said. “[We] had really lost trust in the community due to Katherine Johnston and the Eagle bar raid,” he said, referring to two cases where the public was outraged by police response.
He said one of the most important ways the department has been able to keep the city of Atlanta safer is through embracing new policing technology.
“There’s no way we can have the kind of successes we’ve had without pushing our technologies,” Turner said.
“We’re doing more things with technology and we’re smarter because of it.”