Lancaster City Surveillance Case Study

Author: Carlton Purvis, Published on May 31, 2013

Most city surveillance systems are owned by local governments and paid for by taxpayer dollars, but shrinking budgets can cause cities to skimp on a system or neglect maintenance. However, one Pennsylvania city has created a citizen-run network of cameras and an adopt-a-camera program to keep up with its maintenance. In this note, we examine this program based on an interview with their managing director and analysis of their operational reports.

Operation and Adoption

The Lancaster Community Safety Coalition (LCSC) is a non-profit in Pennsylvania best known for its 161 camera city surveillance network. The organization runs primarily on donations so this month it launched an adopt-a-camera fundraiser to make sure the cameras stay on and working.

“We went through a significant downturn because of the recession, but so far we’ve been able to keep the camera system running,” LCSC Managing Director Wes Farmer says. “We hope this program will help us continue to maintain the cameras.” 

Farmer estimates the cost of the system at $2,300 per camera, per year (A total budget of $379,000. See the breakdown below) This includes maintenance, monitoring, rent for the building that houses the control room and pay for the LCSC staff.

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The ******

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Results ** *** ******

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  • ****** ********* ****** ********* *********** 491 ***** to alert them of a crime in progress.
  • **** **** *** **** ** ********* *********** 8,735 *****.
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Comments (7)

I think it's difficult to quantify the value of a camera simply by how many times it's used to provide evidence or triggers a dispatch. The real question is how much (if anything) was saved in court costs or investigative manpower by having that video available. Likely, that varies depending on the crime or the court case, too.

Ethan, let's say we estimate an average total savings - $5,000? $10,000? There must be some reasonable number or range. 150 incidents x $5,000 is 3/4 million, I guess that would be a positive point.

Another way to look at it is as a percentage of all crimes in the city. Lancaster City has 3,000 - 4,000 crimes per year (police stats). That's 1.5 - 2% of crimes caught on these cameras. From what I can find, it seems the Lancasty city police budget is $2.7 million (see budget report - Lancaster only has ~60,000 people - not big).

If that's accurate, investments in police deliver 50x greater return than cameras.

Btw, this is rough and I think we should investigate this more.

I wonder how that 1.5-2% compares to other cities and what percentage of crimes are typically caught on camera/what percentage of cases end up using video evidence?

I agree that further investigation would be interesting. My point isn't a determination of good/bad one way or the other. I was looking at say, a murder case. If evidence caught on camera can point to a murder weapon location, for example (which actually happened in Allentown), and result in a guilty plee or cut trial time substantially, I'd think it would probably go a long way toward paying for the system, if not more, no?

Disclaimer - Bosch rep firm - It will be interesting to see how statistics weigh in versus public opinion. The fact is that city-wide video not only captures images of crimes, not all but enough in a few big cases, and gives the public a sense of security while they are on their neighborhood streets. It will be an interesting few years to see how the push and pull of economics and public opinion play out in cities and neighborhoods of all sizes. The great news is that as camera technology continues to develop, these cities will get more improvements in technology for their dollar. Image resolution improvements, low light performance improvements, and deeper camera/VMS integration will be a great benefit to neighborhood video systems.

"At the end of the year supporters are provided a report on their camera that includes maintenance history and how their camera was used that year"

And at least the camera won't be showing up at your doorstep one day looking for a place to live.

"LCSC says it is willing to provide footage to both police and prosecutors and defense attorneys with a subpoena."

And that's how it should be.

You would turn away a 7 year old Bosch analog PTZ at your doorstep? How heartless!

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