Tuesday, October 30, 2007

BART to Upgrade Surveillance Camera Systems

BART will spend $5.4 million to upgrade and expand its security camera system to help protect Bay Area transit riders from terrorist attacks and everyday crimes, officials said Monday.

The regional rail agency will deploy the cameras in stations, on the trains, along tracks, in the Transbay Tube, in parking lots and at other facilities. The new system will make use of sophisticated software that allows the cameras to detect such suspicious activity as an unattended backpack on a boarding platform or trespassers in areas off limits to the public.

If the cameras pick up something out of the ordinary, authorities will be automatically alerted, BART Police Chief Gary Gee said.

BART, like most other major transit systems in the nation, including San Francisco's Muni operation, has used anti-crime cameras for years. With the infusion of anti-terrorism money from federal and state governments, the technical quality of the surveillance systems is improving.

But experts acknowledge that the efficacy of such systems drops when the cameras are not rigorously monitored.

As is now the case, BART police officers will be able to monitor the video live from their Oakland control center, Gee said. The agency doesn't have the staff to watch the camera feeds all day and night and so will rely on spot checks and the automatic alerts to direct officers toward potential problems, the chief said.

Questions have been raised in San Francisco recently about 68 cameras installed in areas of high crime over the last two years. Advocates concerned about privacy have fought efforts to have the city's cameras continuously monitored. It's also unclear whether the cameras have helped prevent any crimes.

Nevertheless, the BART camera program is endorsed by California's director of homeland security.

"One of the things we know in terms of threat is that our mass transit systems are very much at risk. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out when you look at the history of some of the attacks that al Qaeda has engaged in," said Matthew Bettenhausen, the governor's homeland security chief.

He was in San Francisco's Powell Street Station on Monday to announce the allocation of $5.4 million in voter-approved state funding for BART's camera program. The money is part of a $19.9 billion transportation bond California voters approved last fall - $1 billion of which is earmarked for security enhancements.

Gee said BART's new camera system will allow officers to better zoom in on suspicious people and items. The new system also includes improved archives, which officials hope will aid investigators after a crime occurs.

BART, which provides about 350,000 trips a day in San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo and Contra Costa counties, has identified $250 million in security needs - from more bomb-sniffing dogs and security cameras to devices that detect chemical, biological and radiological contamination.

"There's no way we can afford to pay for all the items on our list with BART fare revenues," BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger said.

Still, the state bond money covers just a sliver of the $50 million camera project. The agency will implement the upgrades in phases when funding becomes available, concentrating first on the areas with the most riders. Officials declined to offer more specifics on where the new cameras will be deployed or how many there will be, saying they don't want to give secrets away to those looking to do harm.

"The deterrence factor cannot be ignored," Bettenhausen said.

BART has already had some success with its old cameras. Agency spokesman Linton Johnson said graffiti dropped 98 percent after the cameras were installed on trains.

Cameras have also helped solve crimes on transit systems. In August, for example, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority used video footage to help find two suspects who assaulted a passenger. And earlier this month, cameras picked up people breaking into cars in BART's parking lot at the Coliseum/Oakland Airport Station. Police then apprehended the suspected culprits at the scene, Johnson said.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have criticized the growing use of public cameras - mounted on patrol cars, traffic signals, freeway overpasses and utility poles and in buses, trains and airports - as an invasion of personal privacy. But advocates say that in an era of heightened awareness of terrorist threats, the security that cameras offer is worth the loss of privacy.

"I think in a public environment, expectations and standards have changed, and are changing," Dugger said.

Bettenhausen said the surveillance system won't serve as an absolute safeguard against terrorism.

"Obviously it doesn't completely stop it, as we saw in 9/11 and we saw in the London bombings, but it certainly helps," he said. "It is a useful tool for identifying potential plotters and preventing additional attacks."

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Help Wanted: Mobile Video Specialists

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Wi-Fi growth fuels video surveillance adoption

Despite privacy concerns surrounding the use of video surveillance systems in public spaces, industry observers have noted increasing uptake of the technology, particularly in the public sector.

Installations of digital video are growing at eye-popping rates. In 2006, the world market for network video surveillance products increased by 41.9 per cent, according to IMS Research. And the public sector is an avid adopter of video technology.

The Toronto Transit Commission is among those looking to adopt video technology in an effort to enhance security across its fleet of trains, buses and streetcars. Yesterday's news reports, however, indicated the Ontario privacy commissioner's office will look into the privacy implication of the TTC's planned video deployment.

"There's a perfect storm around the perceived need for online real-time video, be it for terrorists, safety or monitoring," says Michael Rozender, wireless consultant at the Mount Albert, Ont.-based Fox Group. Cheap cameras; plummeting storage costs; big broadband pipes; ubiquitous wireless connections: many readily available technologies are combining to create a dramatic surge in installations.

"Video is the killer app for needing broadband, but it's the tail that wagged the dog," says Rozender, pointing out most public sector organizations are stumbling towards video in a circuitous way. Although IP-based video cameras can run on any connection, wireless is the most effective option for installing them in parking lots, pathways and other places on the periphery.

But most public entities are installing wireless broadband infrastructure for other reasons, he says. For example, universities, health care facilities, and government agencies with multiple sites are installing it for building-to-building communications. "They don't want to pay service providers for expensive TI and T3 lines. And video is one of the first applications that gets added once the wireless cloud is in place."

Another tail wagging the dog is smart metering for electrical utilities, says Rozender. "There's a law on the books in Ontario that every municipality must have smart metering in place by 2010, and most provinces are following suit."

While broadband isn't strictly necessary for low-end meter reading, many utilities are nevertheless putting in the wireless network infrastructure for more bandwidth-hungry applications. "They're thinking, we want to run video applications on this thing to monitor sub-stations and other electrical infrastructure."

In addition, many regions have full-blown municipal Wi-Fi initiatives under way, particularly in urban centres. "Once those broadband capabilities are available throughout a municipality, governments start finding applications to ride on top," he says. Public safety is a universal concern, and video satisfies the human need to assess a threat by looking at it.

Law enforcement agencies have been major innovators in taking advantage of municipal Wi-Fi, he adds. "If there's a robbery in progress and an officer unholsters a gun, this sends a signal via transponders embedded in it to alert dispatch. Out come the in-car video cameras and an all-points bulletin for help. And you can tell from the GPS which police car sent the signal, which can turn on nearby lamppost cams to see what's going on."

While the public was initially leery of video surveillance, this attitude is changing, he says. "There's acceptance that first responders and other government employees who are potentially in harm's way need video, and this is leading to broader acceptance."

Video surveillance is evolving beyond passive monitoring to embedded intelligence in systems. Video analytics is a key area of focus for the security industry, says Greg Turner, director of global offerings at Minneapolis-based Honeywell International.

"This area is changing fast, and it's where we're seeing the most innovation."

This is part of a broader trend to create intelligent security systems that link information from wireless video cameras with other parts of security systems to react to triggers, says Turner.

Analytics use algorithms to determine normal patterns of events and behaviour, and can issue alerts when something deviates from the norm.

Privacy Commissioner to Probe Use of Cameras on Transit Network

TORONTO - Ontario's privacy commissioner is launching an investigation into the installation of thousands of security cameras throughout Canada's largest public transit network following a complaint by an international privacy watchdog that the system would violate the privacy of Toronto commuters.

London-based Privacy International filed the complaint with the privacy commissioner Wednesday afternoon, disputing the Toronto Transit Commission's claim that the $21-million project would reduce crime levels and terrorism threats, and arguing that transit officials have shown "contempt" for Canadian privacy law.

"Privacy International believes that the installation of cameras on the scale proposed by the TTC fundamentally violates privacy law," the complaint states.

"In the absence of a compelling case for public safety the program is unnecessary and disproportionate. It also appears to be inappropriate and poorly considered used of resources."

The TTC, which provides 1.4 million rides each weekday, is in the process of installing up to 10,000 security cameras in its buses, streetcars and subway system, adding to its current network of about 1,500 cameras.

The system, which was approved by the TTC last spring and is expected to be operational by June, will be capable of snapping photos and recording video - and in some cases, audio - of any of the TTC's daily riders. The federal government kicked in $6.5 million for the project.

TTC chairman Adam Giambrone defended the system Wednesday, saying the information is centrally collected and accessible only to police, and that the cameras are part of larger security plan that involves such measures as increasing the number of transit constables.

"We were the last of the major transit authorities in North America and Europe - who are way ahead - to install a major camera program. So clearly, the consensus out there is that this is a positive," he said.

While Giambrone said he personally believes the system will work, he acknowledged that the cameras won't necessarily deter many acts of violence.

"But they are a tool for police, they make people feel safer and their results have been proven over the last year, when we've actually been able to use them to make some arrests and some very serious crimes that occurred on the TTC," he said.

However, there's little evidence to support the claim that such surveillance significantly reduces crime levels or the threat of a terror attack, said Simon Davies, a privacy expert and director of Privacy International.

Studies have shown that many recordings from surveillance cameras aren't of sufficient quality to even identify suspects, he points out. Taxpayers will also be saddled with the costs of maintaining the system.

"Very often what happens is that authorities become mesmerized by the technology," he said in an interview from London.

"It makes governments look good, it makes public service employees feel that they're on the cutting edge, but the bottom line is that within a year, the crime figures usually return to normal, and the expenditure has gone to waste."

A report evaluating a pilot project on the Berlin subway testing the effectiveness of 24-hour surveillance in reducing crime revealed that the video surveillance actually led to a small increase in crime, Davies said.

"I'd like to know why Toronto would be any different," he added. "It's using exactly the same technology in the same environment. But where was the acknowledgment by the TTC that this independent study had produced those conclusions?"

The TTC has also failed to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that there is a public-interest justification for the project and did little to publicize plans for the project before implementing it, the organization states in its complaint.

The TTC's justification in installing the cameras will be one area the privacy commissioner will investigate, although it's too early to tell how long the investigation may take, said Bob Spence, a commission spokesman.

"We're looking at exactly why they're putting up cameras, are they putting up signs so people are aware of the cameras," he said in an interview from Hamilton.

"We'll look at all aspects of the complaint."

Monday, October 15, 2007

On-Board Digital Video Camera Systems Help Arrest Suspect in Abduction, Rape

By Chris Havens, Star Tribune

A 20-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the kidnapping and rape of a woman at a Minneapolis light-rail train station in the early morning hours of Oct. 4, Metro Transit Police said Saturday.
St. Paul police arrested the Minneapolis man, who has no permanent address, shortly before 4 p.m. Friday. He's being held in the Hennepin County Jail pending charges.

Metro Transit Police are handling the investigation. According to Metro Transit spokesman Bob Gibbons:

The woman was alone on the 38th Street platform waiting for a northbound train about 1:55 a.m. when a man approached her. He put a gun to her back and verbally threatened her. Then he forced her off the platform and took her to a laundry facility in an apartment building east of Hiawatha Avenue where he beat and raped the woman and stole her purse.

The victim, who had been with friends at a nearby bar, made her way to an acquaintance who lived in the area and called police. She was taken to the hospital, where she was treated and released.

It was the first abduction on the light-rail system since trains began rolling in 2004.

Transit police investigators worked with other law enforcement agencies, witnesses, video from the platform and other evidence to identify the suspect, said Transit Police Chief Dave Indrehus.

Gibbons said the victim remembered key details that helped in the investigation.

All of Metro Transit's 17 LRT stations, 27 train cars and 850 buses have video cameras.

"Once again, the importance of transit surveillance video has been affirmed," Indrehus said.

Rapists often find public places, such as bus stops, to be good places to take advantage of women, said Linda Ledray, director of the Hennepin County Medical Center's Sex Assault Resource Service. However, she said, rapes committed by strangers aren't nearly as common as those committed by acquaintances.

Ledray said her program has seen more than 60 rape victims each month from June through September in Hennepin County. "We've seen more stranger rapes and violent rapes than we've seen in the past 30 years," she said, adding that not all cases are reported to police.

According to Minneapolis Police statistics, there have been 382 reported rapes so far in 2007. That's six fewer than the number reported this time last year. At this time in 2005, 334 rapes had been reported.

Chris Havens • chavens@startribune.com

© 2007 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

San Francisco MUNI adding More Cameras to thier Fleet

Muni is watching you. More than 700 Muni buses and trains have already been equipped with video surveillance cameras — and more are on the way, according to a new Muni report. The transit agency — which carries about 672,000 riders each weekday on more than 1,000 vehicles — is planning to retrofit its underground boarding zones and maintenance yards with cameras as part of a $7 million security improvement program that also includes alarms, fencing, lighting and monitoring consoles.

All platforms along the new T-Third light rail line have been equipped with cameras and digital recorders, while all new vehicles obtained by the agency will also come with surveillance systems, according to Muni’s Short Range Transit Plan for 2008-2027, released this week. The agency is also busy equipping buses with cameras located above operators’ heads with funds from a state grant, the report states.

“I wouldn’t feel secure without them,” said Ricardo Hernandez, who drives a 14-Mission bus, regarding the video systems. “They help keep the taggers away.”

The new surveillance systems and security measures are meant to improve safety for passengers, employees and Muni property. When criminal activity occurs on board, operators are required to report to a supervisor, who then notifies the Police Department.

Some of the most common incidents onboard Muni vehicles include altercations between riders, passengers who refuse to pay, general unruliness, tagging and assaults on Muni drivers, according to operators and Irwin Lum, president of the local Transport Workers Union of America.

On average, 71 attacks on Muni drivers have been reported each year for the last five years, according to Muni. The highest number came in fiscal year 2002-03, when 84 assaults were recorded; the lowest number occurred in fiscal year 2005-06, with 51. In fiscal year 2006-07, 73 assaults were reported. Lum says many more incidents are not reported.

According to the short-range transit plan report, a security camera pilot program on 14-Mission buses led to a “dramatic reduction of incidents” and also “assisted with the prosecution of individuals” involved.

“The cameras are a step forward,” Lum said. “Some people complain about privacy, like it’s Big Brother. But safety is the main concern.”

While Muni works closely with a 10-officer squad from the San Francisco Police Department assigned to reduce criminal activity on Muni vehicles, Lum said the transit agency should go one step further and employ its own police force.

“In most other systems, like BART, they have their own dedicated police force,” he said. “That’s something we look forward to having.”

New York MTA Trains Workers on Terrorist Attack Prevention

Think like a terrorist and you may be able thwart an attack on the subway and bus system.

That was a central message given to more than two dozen transit workers yesterday in one of the first classes of a new anti-terror training program the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has launched with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

For three hours, conductors, train operators, dispatchers and other NYC Transit workers were led through such topics as how terrorists select targets, gather surveillance, plan and carry out attacks. The class was held in an NYC Transit training center in Manhattan.

Eventually 28,000 front-line workers from NYCT, MTA Bus, Long Island Rail Road and Metro North will receive training.

The course included excerpts from seized Al-Qaeda documents and an actual video surveillance tape from a thwarted plot to attack U.S. military personnel who commuted by bus to a transit hub in Singapore in 2001. In it, the narrator points out bicycle racks where some bicycles had storage containers attached to the bike frames - which the terror cell saw as ideal places to conceal bombs to be exploded as commuters passed by, said instructor John Turner, a former NYPD detective who spent 20 years on the force.

"They do their homework," Turner, an employe of the EAI Corp., which along with the feds, MTA and the National Transportation Institute created the curriculum. "These plans take days, weeks, months or years."

The detective also played a dramatization showing a "plot" to bomb a major transportation hub in the U.S. that included some strategies terrorists have used in the past, including extensive surveillance.

In that scenario, a conductor spotted one of the pieces of unattended luggage. A rapid response included the evacuation of passengers and moving the train to a more remote location.

Turner said a major thrust of the course was to get transit workers, who in years past griped their training was lacking, to focus on behavior more than exterior appearances.

Metro Transit Wants Digital Video Security Cameras on all Buses by 2010

Madison Metro Transit plans to put security cameras on half of its buses by the end of 2008 and all buses by the end of 2010.

According to George Twigg, spokesperson for Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, the mayor supports the plan as a way to prevent bad behavior and as a way for police to gather evidence and identify suspects.

“Originally, public funding had been made available for Metro in case they felt the need to put officers on buses. Metro felt that actually having cameras would be a better use of those resources,” Twigg said.

Julie Maryott-Walsh, Metro Transit spokesperson, said currently 20 of the city’s 204 buses have cameras.
Maryott-Walsh said the cameras record 20 hours of video and are subsequently taped over if Metro Transit does not receive complaints from drivers, customers or police.

“They have proven to be valuable assets to us,” she said.

Maryott-Walsh said the cameras also act as a deterrent.

“I think that when people are aware of the fact that there are cameras on the buses, that they could be recorded and their picture could end up in the paper, I think that is a detraction,” she said.
Maryott-Walsh said when cameras were initially put on buses several years ago privacy issues were a concern, but no issues have come up since then.

Rob Kennedy, a manager for UW-Madison Transportation Services, is in charge of the SAFE program, and said SAFE and Transportation Services support putting cameras on the buses.

“We obviously have buses that run at night that are very important to people on this campus,” Kennedy said. “We think this can only help keep people safe.”
Twigg said the intent of the program is to improve safety, not punish students for underage drinking who are using SAFE bus or any of the buses.

“The idea of the cameras is really to be used in case there is violence or theft or something like that. Hopefully [students] won’t be discouraged [from riding the buses],” he said. “We hope that it will help improve public safety and encourage people to ride buses even late at night or other times when they might be concerned, knowing that there is this added level of security available.”

Kennedy said intoxicated students do not prove to be an issue on the SAFE buses.
“Most of the students and people that get on the bus are acting responsibly, and if they’ve had a bit to drink, they are not drinking on the bus,” he said.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

DRI Received Order from GE

Transit to Add Cameras to All Buses by 2010

October 10, 2007

Brenda Jensen believes video cameras on Metro Transit buses would have prevented one of the most frightening moments in her eight years as a driver.

In January 2006, as Jensen was parked outside Memorial High School, a group of students exiting the bus were confronted by the school's police officer responding to reports that they were planning to start a fight.

Jensen didn't think much of the incident until later as she was driving other students home. After the bus hit a bump, causing a thunk in the back, Jensen turned around to see a concerned child bringing forward the object that had fallen to the floor.

"I stopped and had a heart attack right there because this little girl was holding a loaded gun," Jensen said.

The students had hidden what turned out to be a realistic-looking pellet gun and a baseball bat underneath a seat. Fortunately no one was hurt, but Jensen doesn't think those students would have tried to bring weapons on the bus if they knew they were being watched.

A few months after that incident, Metro Transit equipped 15 of its 200 buses with four cameras each, and now Metro officials want to put cameras on all of its buses sooner than originally planned.

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