Sandy Springs police have agreed to install as many as 20 cameras in Sandy Springs as part of the Atlanta Police Department’s “Operation Shield” crime-prevention program, officials of the two cities say.

An Atlanta Police Department ‘Operation Shield’ camera was recently installed at the corner of Forest Hills Drive and Roswell Road. (By Dyana Bagby)

The cameras are set up in the southern part of Sandy Springs, near the city’s border with Atlanta, said Sandy Springs Police Capt. Rose. One camera, engraved with the APD logo, is readily visible at the intersection of Roswell Road and Forest Hills Drive, more than a mile inside the city limits. Another camera is located on Crest Valley Drive, Rose said.

“They [APD] approached us about 2 1/2 months ago. This is an extension of what APD is doing,” Rose said.

Rose said approximately seven cameras are online in Sandy Springs and the goal is to install as many as 20 within the city limits. Rose declined to say where cameras are located or where they will be located.

Currently, SSPD does not have access to the data collected from the cameras, Rose said. Only APD can see what the cameras in the city see from its video integration center in downtown Atlanta. The SSPD is working on an integration system so it can also access data from the cameras.

“We can’t see them yet,” Rose said. “They brought this to us …and networking and sharing information among law enforcement is critical. Our IT department is working on the integration part on how we would integrate [APD’s] programming into our existing software.”

Sandy Springs can access the data by requesting APD for surveillance videos, Rose said.

The cameras located and to be located in Sandy Springs will be placed at this time in public right-of-way, such as on utility poles, Rose said.

“All we’re interested in is roadways. We’re not going to put one in someone’s driveway,” he said. “On the right-of-way officers can see a suspect vehicle and determine the path.”

Sandy Springs is not spending money on the APD cameras, Rose said. After three years, the cameras will become the property of Sandy Springs and expenses for maintaining the cameras and other costs will be transferred to the city. How much that will cost is not known at this time, he said.

No city council approval was necessary and the APD simply must comply with the Sandy Springs permitting ordinances to install the cameras.

“The agencies have been working in connection with Operation Shield, providing SSPD with the opportunity to augment the camera system we have in place in the south district, assisting in our ability to monitor roadways and intersections,” said Sharon Kraun, spokesperson for Sandy Springs.

“There is a permitting process that APD will need to follow as part of installation of cameras in the city’s right-of-way.  Those logistics are being coordinated through the agencies,” she said.

Atlanta seeks to put 10,000 cameras on streets

Operation Shield was created in 2007 under the administration of Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and Police Chief Richard Pennington and through federal funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security following Sept. 11. It is an initiative of the Atlanta Police Foundation and the APD.

The Atlanta Police Foundation raises funds to purchase cameras, through corporations and private individuals. Putting cameras on the street in these key target areas were part of a plan to ensure safety to tourists and residents, said Marlon Trone, vice president of programs for the Atlanta Police Foundation, which oversees Operation Shield.  

“These cameras are not specifically a law enforcement tool; we view them as a public safety tool,” he said. “We’re not in personal security business. We’ve partnered with City Council to identify key areas that affect the placement of cameras.”

Operation Shield owns approximately 200 cameras but is connected to some 6,000 cameras through the Loudermilk Video Integration Center where officers can monitor images from thousands of cameras throughout the city. When the program is complete, the APD will be monitoring 10,000 cameras, Trone said.

The majority of cameras are privately owned – such as by Coca-Cola, CNN and college campuses, Trone said. Because the APD is integrated with these private corporations’ surveillance cameras, officers in the integration center can see inside buildings and on campuses in real time.

“All that data is their own; we don’t own or collect data” from private cameras, Trone said. The cameras owned by APD are typically located on public right-of-ways and data collected on these cameras are stored for only 30 days, Trone said.

The Atlanta Police Foundation approached Sandy Springs earlier this year to propose a partnership to locate cameras near the Atlanta border, Trone said.

“We let them know funding has come available and with the understanding that criminals don’t respect boundaries” and suspects leaving Atlanta and into Sandy Springs can be easily tracked with the additional cameras. With cameras in place in Sandy Springs, Atlanta police can alert Sandy Springs officers if a suspect has fled to their streets.

APD is also in talks with police in other cities, including Roswell and Conyers, and with DeKalb County police. Some initial talks have been made with Dunwoody and Brookhaven, also, Trone said.

Privacy concerns

Rose said police understand privacy concerns, but said these cameras and others are not part of a “Big Brother” movement.

“We’ve received dozens of emails from people who have seen the cameras and are really on board with it,” he said.

ACLU Executive Director Maya Dillard Smith said while license plate readers and surveillance tactics, such as cameras, can serve legitimate public safety purposes, “these tactics are only used in exceptional circumstances to actually aid criminal investigations.”

“Which means that a large part of the time, these videos and tag readers are collecting data about people’s coming and goings when they should not,” Smith said. “The ACLU’s interest is to protect Georgians’ Fourth Amendment rights against improper government surveillance and to ensure that any such tactics are used with proper regulation and accountability.”

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.

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