Lancaster City Surveillance Case Study

By: 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.

The adopt-a-camera program asks residents to donate $1,000 toward the maintenance of a camera of their choosing. 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 (to investigate a crime or give officers a view of a house fire, for example). The fundraiser was officially announced May 7, and as of May 14, around 140 cameras (out of 161) are left to be adopted.

Farmer says thinks the public will be willing to help maintain the cameras after seeing the role pictures and video played in the Boston Bombing investigation. “We have already added three cameras last year that were fully funded by people who were willing to pay the installation cost and commit to an annual donation to support that particular camera,” Farmer said.

The organization has also received two grants for around $160,000 each from the district attorney’s office and the city. The DA’s office says the cameras have proved their value saying footage “led defendants to plead guilty,” estimating it costs taxpayers $20,000 for each case that goes to trial.

The System

The first cameras were originally installed in 2005 as part of a community crime prevention initiative. Now the system is made up of 161 cameras (145 analog cameras and encoders, 16 IP cameras, including two PTZ), Milestone software, a Firetide mesh network and fiber optic cable that was laid during the system’s original installation.

The LCSC was able to save money by having the cable laid at the same time the city was putting in new ones for its stop lights, and the organization was able to get cameras from Bosch (who is also based in Lancaster) for discounted prices in exchange for giving them a platform to test new firmware.

The cameras, which they claim cover 60 percent of Lancaster, record 24/7. The operators are paid staff who monitor the cameras from 12-18 hours daily and listen to the police scanner for incidents and have a hotline that law enforcement can call to request the cameras capture a certain view. Additionally, LCSC can send live feeds to 911 dispatchers and the police station

Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News
Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News

Video is stored for 14 days. LCSC says it is willing to provide footage to both police and prosecutors and defense attorneys with a subpoena.

Results of the System

Stats from 2012 from the LCSC's annual report disclosed:

  • Camera operators called emergency dispatchers 491 times to alert them of a crime in progress.
  • Live feed was sent to emergency dispatchers 8,735 times.
  • LCSC received 1600 requests to review video and provided evidence to the DA for 922 incidents.
  • Cameras provided evidence for 133 arrests, 53 citations

The return is questionable. On average, the camera operators only called dispatch about 1.3 times per day and they only provided evidence for an arrest every 3rd day. For the nearly $400k ongoing cost plus the millions to install, is this really worth it?

Future Plans

“The police would like the system to expand and we have a waiting list of neighborhoods who want cameras,” says Farmer. “I would like to expand too, but I have to wait until I have the community support in the form of donations to be able to support that."

IPVM Analysis

The city and district attorney’s office are likely to continue giving grants to the LCSC because they have an interest in keeping the cameras on, but the amount may vary in the future. So far only 20 cameras have been adopted, but if Lancaster can get this program up and running it could be a way to keep the cameras funded for the next few years. However, at some point, the cameras will need to be replaced, requiring a much more significant investment.

Tax money pays for municipal surveillance systems and technically the public “owns” the system, but the adopt-a-camera program gives people more of a sense of ownership. As we saw in both Philadelphia, where most of the cameras did not work, and Miami where camera repair was not a priority until someone was murdered, cities often have trouble maintaining their systems and there is little accountability when problems are discovered. The end of year reports will help hold LCSC more accountable for how the cameras are used and maintained. The public is more likely to ask questions about why a camera is not working when they receive regular reports on their status and have paid $1,000 to keep them running.

On the other hand, given the actual results of the system, even if the system can be maintained, what is the real worth of them?

Comments (7) : PRO Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports on Police

Embattled $400 Million China Funded Philippines Surveillance System Proceeds on Jun 13, 2019
An embattled 12,000 camera surveillance system project that will cost ~$400 million will proceed.  The project contract was awarded, had its...
China Jaywalking Facial Recognition Guide on May 27, 2019
News reports touting the PRC's AI prowess often showcase facial recognition cameras being used to automatically catch and fine jaywalkers.  In...
Kidnapping Victim Rescued With Video From Ring Doorbell Camera on May 24, 2019
A kidnapping victim was rescued within 24 hours, with the police crediting video from a Ring Doorbell camera as key to solving the case. A girl was...
Amazon Ring Public Subsidy Program Aims To Dominate Residential Security on May 20, 2019
Amazon dominates market after market. Quitely, but increasingly, they are doing so in residential security, through a combination of significant...
Bank Security Manager Interview on May 15, 2019
Bank security contends with many significant threats - from fraudsters to robbers and more. In this interview, IPVM spoke with bank security...
China PRC Government New National Video Surveillance Standards on May 14, 2019
The People's Republic of China (PRC) government has released a new set of overarching standards for authorities to follow when they install video...
Aegis AI Gun Detection Video Analytics Startup on May 07, 2019
Gun detection analytic startups are increasing as the promise of AI and the threats of active shooters grow.  One company, Aegis AI, is being led...
Verkada Wins $783,000 Memphis Deal on Apr 29, 2019
The US city, most famous in video surveillance for standardizing on Hikvision, has issued an RFQ for 962 Verkada cameras due Wednesday, May 1,...
"Automated Racism": Chinese Tech Companies Profiling Ethnic Minority on Apr 26, 2019
Scrutiny of Chinese facial recognition providers, including Hikvision, has sharply increased following a New York Times report that they developed...
UK Camera Commissioner Calls for Regulating Facial Recognition on Apr 15, 2019
IPVM interviewed Tony Porter, the UK’s surveillance camera commissioner after he recently called for regulations on facial recognition in the...

Most Recent Industry Reports

Responsibility Split Selecting Locks - Statistics on Jul 22, 2019
A heated access debate surrounds who should pick and install the locks. While responsible for selecting the control systems, integrators often...
Vivotek Trend Micro Cyber Security Camera App Tested on Jul 22, 2019
Vivotek and Trend Micro are claiming five million blocked attacks on IP cameras, with their jointly developed app for Vivotek cameras. This new...
Avigilon ACC7 VMS Tested on Jul 22, 2019
Avigilon's Control Center 7 boldly claims it will "transform live video monitoring" with the new Focus of Attention "AI-enabled" interface. We...
History of Video Surveillance on Jul 19, 2019
The video surveillance market has changed significantly since 2000, going from VCRs to emerging into an AI cloud era.  The goal of this history...
Mobile Access Usage Statistics 2019 on Jul 18, 2019
The ability to use mobile phones as access credentials is one of the biggest trends in a market that historically has been slow in adopting new...
New GDPR Guidelines for Video Surveillance Examined on Jul 18, 2019
The highest-level EU data protection authority has issued a new series of provisional video surveillance guidelines. While GDPR has been in...
Wyze AI Analytics Tested - Beats Axis and Hikvision on Jul 17, 2019
$20 camera disruptor Wyze has released free person detection deep learning analytics to all of their users, claiming users will "Only get notified...
Anyvision Aims For 2022 Revenue of $1 Billion on Jul 17, 2019
Only 3 video surveillance manufacturers do a billion dollars or more in annual revenue - Hikvision, Dahua, and Axis. Now, Anyvision plans to join...
HD Analog vs IP Guide on Jul 16, 2019
For years, HD resolution and single cable signal/power were IP camera advantages, with analog cameras limited to much lower resolution and...
How To Troubleshoot Wiegand Reader Problems - Inverted Wiring on Jul 16, 2019
Wiegand is the dominant method of connecting access readers, but problems can arise for installers. In fact, one of the most difficult reader...

The world's leading video surveillance information source, IPVM provides the best reporting, testing and training for 10,000+ members globally. Dedicated to independent and objective information, we uniquely refuse any and all advertisements, sponsorship and consulting from manufacturers.

About | FAQ | Contact