"Community Cam" Aims to Link Bay Area Security Cameras

By Stephanie Chuang
|  Monday, Oct 14, 2013  |  Updated 9:48 AM PDT
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Initiative asks people to relay where they have seen security cameras to create an online database of camera locations. Stephanie Chuang reports.

Initiative asks people to relay where they have seen security cameras to create an online database of camera locations. Stephanie Chuang reports.

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Would you like to know if there are security cameras where you walk, run or bike?

That’s what “Community Cam” aims to do here in the Bay Area. The initiative asks people to register online and then pinpoint where they’ve seen security cameras. The result: a web of cameras mapped for people to see. Josh Daniels, who founded VideoSurveillance.com and CommunityCam, said it’s been a success in the first two cities, Portland and Philadelphia, and now in San Francisco.

“We’ve really not seen a lot of privacy concerns about CommunityCam,” Daniels said over Skype. “In fact, we’ve seen quite a dramatic appreciation for the tool. It’s allowed runners, bikers and walkers to plan safe walking, biking and running routes.”

So far, the effort to crowdsource camera location information has resulted in more than 1,000 cameras mapped online in the San Francisco, with another 1,000 in Oakland and surrounding East Bay cities.

For Greg Suhr, San Francisco Police Chief, this is just another tool that will help his department get good video evidence and have a better chance at moving cases forward, calling video the “gift that keeps on giving.” He expressed interest in working with Daniels and CommunityCam, as his department works on mapping cameras around notoriously high-risk accident intersections.

“We have those pre-diagrammed. We just recently did a survey of Market Street that got some attention in the press when we identified about 69 businesses that have cameras in various positions,” said Chief Suhr. “We’re now in the process of geocoding a map to show where all those cameras are and go access those cameras on the spot, and then we’re going to further survey those cams to see what in fact they can see.”

There was some backlash against the San Francisco Police Department after Amelie Le Moullac, a 24-year-old, was killed bicycling on her way to work August 14. A truck driver slammed into her at Folsom and Sixth when he made a right-hand turn. Initially, investigators ruled it was Le Moullac who was at fault.

“Witness testimony at the time actually had the bicyclist being at fault. Later on, video was called to our attention, we missed the video, we’re human, things happen,” explained the police chief. “But certainly we’re so appreciative that someone brought it to our attention because it completely confirmed the fact that it was indeed the truck driver making an unsafe right hand turn.”

Micha Liberty, an Oakland-based attorney representing Le Moullac’s family, said a tool like CommunityCam might help in future investigations.

“Currently, attorneys and local police departments rely on cameras maintained and operated by private companies on private property, which are not always reliable or easily accessible,” said Liberty. “For example, most private companies only maintain security footage for 24 hours to a few days—thus, it is not always preserved for use by law enforcement or others.”

She added, “When law enforcement agencies fail to identify video footage it is sometimes very difficult for victims of crimes or their representatives to obtain footage on their own.”

Chief Suhr said his department continues to try and maximize technology and resources that could potentially make or break a case, pointing to how much security camera footage has helped cases that would have otherwise likely stalled.

“We’ve actually done cases where we’ve been able to trace back the route of a perpetrator or follow a victim, going camera to camera.”

San Francisco is still nowhere near the sort of security camera system that you would find in the UK, where there is an estimated 1.85 million security cameras, some of them monitored in real-time at all times.

For example, in London, there are about 250 cameras owned by the City of London Police and about 90 automatic number plate recognition devices, according to spokesperson, Jon Parker. In an email, he said the CCTV “is actively managed through the force’s Control Room. The force also has a storage process to save footage for evidential purposes, which can be searched by officers.”

Chief Suhr reassured there’s zero interest in that in San Francisco.

“Anything that makes San Francisco safer, without encroaching on anybody’s civil liberties, works for the chief of police.”

MORE: Click here for information on the Community Cam website

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