DPS weighs in on video surveillance
Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush attended City Council meeting on CCTV
February 17, 2013, 11:16 pm·
Penn’s Division of Public Safety was one of many groups speaking at a City Council hearing last week on the topic of surveillance cameras in Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia City Council’s Public Safety Committee convened a hearing last Monday about how the city’s closed-circuit television surveillance camera system could be improved.
Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush spoke representing Penn. Also speaking were representatives from groups like the Philadelphia School District and the Philadelphia Housing Authority, many of whom spoke about their individual experiences with camera systems.
Rush called the hearing “the beginning of a larger conversation” about the role of surveillance cameras, particularly in combating crime.
City Controller Alan Butkovitz, who testified at Monday’s hearing, released an audit last June which said that only 102 of the Philadelphia’s 216 installed cameras were functioning properly. Since $13.9 million went into the program initially, each fully-operating camera had cost the city about $136,000, according to Butkovitz.
“The city backed into the camera effort halfheartedly,” he said.
Rush noted that one of the reasons DPS may have had more success in its CCTV efforts than the Philadelphia Police Department is because of the size of its patrol zone.
Philadelphia Police “has got the whole city of Philadelphia to patrol,” Rush said. “We’re a more distinct jurisdiction, so we can concentrate on just this one area.”
Penn’s DPS operates its own cameras around campus, which dispatchers in the PennComm Operations Center monitor 24 hours per day.
“Our goal is to use our CCTV platform proactively to prevent crime,” Rush said.
The camera issue has come to the forefront in the city since the end of January, when the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that a team from the City Council, including Council President Darrell Clarke, traveled south to Baltimore for a tour of how the Maryland city uses CCTV cameras.
The Baltimore CitiWatch program includes 622 cameras scattered throughout the city, and has shown results in solving crime.
In 2011, the CitiWatch network of cameras participated in over 1,200 arrests in Baltimore.
In Monday’s hearing, Philadelphia School District Chief Inspector Cynthia Dorsey also spoke. She stressed surveillance cameras as just one part of a wider effort toward school safety, particularly in the wake of the recent Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and kidnapping of a five-year-old girl from a West Philadelphia elementary school.
“Every elementary school must be hardened,” Dorsey said, stressing the need for cameras, front door intercom systems and even potentially metal detectors.
SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch also spoke at the hearing about the transit agency’s network of cameras.
According to Busch, the organization operates a “robust system” of approximately 12,000 cameras.
The cameras both helped SEPTA investigate crime and “reduc[ed] the number of fraudulent injury claims,” Busch said.
Every train on the Market-Frankford and Broad Street lines is currently outfitted with multiple cameras on each car, according to Busch. In addition, 60 percent of the bus fleet is equipped with closed circuit cameras, and Busch said he expects that number to rise to 90 percent by the end of the year.
However, he noted that there is no evidence yet that the cameras are acting as a crime deterrent on SEPTA.
No one from the Philadelphia Police or the Mayor’s Office testified. A spokesperson for the mayor said that all those who could testify were either out of town, or at an event on gun control with Vice President Joe Biden.
Members of the Council noted that the hearing was just one step in determining the best practices for a city surveillance camera system.
Rush said that she was “honored that Penn was invited to the table to discuss the issue” of video surveillance cameras.