SAN FRANCISCO—As a multitude of cities and towns in the country consider installing municipal surveillance systems, more struggle with how the video and these cameras should be used. Who is in control? Who has the capability to view video? What are the privacy limits? 

Sir Chris Fox has tackled these questions head-on during his 34-year tenure in British law enforcement. During a media presentation in May, he said in addition to the obvious questions above, one of the most critical issues to consider with public surveillance systems is that city officials define their reasons for the program before jumping in feet first.

“What does success look like?” he said. “What is it I want and how do I know when I’ve reached that? Is camera technology what I need? Sometimes it isn’t.”

Fox was involved in the coordination of the national police operations after the London Underground bombings in 2005 and he also organized the security operations for the 2005 G-8 Summit in Scotland. In the case of the London bombings, video from a vast network of public surveillance cameras, which Fox refers to as community safety cameras, helped police identify the suicide bombers within days.

“These systems work when designed properly,” he said. “I’m not a technologist — I wanted technology that would allow me to do my job.” The U.K. has dealt with terrorism for the past 30 years but in the early 1990s when two-year-old Jamie Bulger was murdered and terrorism bombings increased, the public started feeling uncomfortable.“There was a public outcry for officials to find criminals,” he said. “Public wanted them and still do. You can’t beat a good old-fashioned picture of what happened.” He said there is an estimated one camera per 14 people in the U.K., but many of those are privately owned cameras in shops and gas stations, for example. How has the country justified the cost of the installations? Fox said the ROI is difficult to equate because “how can you measure the cost of a community that feels safer?”

What technologies will be critical in future municipal projects? Fox said analytics are the “key to the future” and camera installations of need to be mobile so that cameras can be moved as criminal activity deviates to new locations. He also said systems that could help police identify certain behaviors would be useful in this market.

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