City in NY Makes Cameras and Police Access Mandatory

By: Carlton Purvis, Published on Feb 14, 2014

Surveillance sales people dream about their products being required by law. Qatar's surveillance laws do that, and it would be a gold mine if the huge U.S. market followed suit. In this update, we review a recently passed ordinance that requires surveillance for businesses in a New York city.

The Ordinance

A recently passed ordinance from White Plains, New York requires certain businesses to install and maintain video surveillance systems.

The ordinance, which was written by the White Plains Department of Public Safety’s law department, focuses on businesses “at enhanced risk for unlawful activity.”

According to the new law, pharmacies, anyone who sells alcohol (including bars), pawn shops, jewelry stores, check cashing businesses and any establishment open between midnight and 4 a.m. fall into that category.

This will impact around 250 businesses in the city, and they have one year to comply, according to the city clerk’s office. The penalty for non-compliance is $250 per day.

Specs

The ordinance doesn’t specify a specific number of cameras, but it does mandate cameras at all entrances and exits and be able to capture all activity within 15 feet of the exit "to the extent practicable" and capture "a full frame of the individual's face."

The image requirements are vague. Instead of requiring a certain pixels per foot, it only requires cameras be able to produce “easily discernible images.” They have to record at a minimum of 8fps and cameras must not be able to record audio.

There is no requirement for a specific camera type, pixel count or method of recording except that it must be digital. Recorded video must be stored in a locked “receptacle” in a controlled access area.

Recording Time and Retention

Surprisingly, the ordinance doesn’t require cameras to record at all times, but “during all hours of operation of the business and two hours after the business closes.” Video must be stored for a minimum of seven days.

Police Access Mandatory!

The ordinance requires the business turn over surveillance footage to the White Plains Department of Public Safety on demand (immediately if that is during business hours, and as soon as possible if a business is closed).

Additionally, the department can come inspect the system at any time and each year (on January 31st) businesses must submit a certification report showing they are in compliance.

Having a city law in place that grants police access, effectively skirts normal procedure that would require police get a warrant or at least ask a business to share its footage.

Logging Requirement

Businesses must maintain logs of anytime the system is accessed, recordings are exported and what the footage was used for. These logs must be producible on demand.

Opposition

The local business association, which represents 1,000 small businesses in the county says it’s a burden that the government wants to place on businesses. The CEO of the association, Al Samuels says if the government wants there to be more cameras, then they should pay for it. Philadelphia provides a grant as an incentive to businesses that install surveillance cameras, but they don’t require them, for example.

Another businesses owner, who installed his own system, see its as the police forcing city businesses to do their job.

“There’s a difference between the police asking for help and forcing us, under a law, to do surveillance for them,” he told The Journal News [link no longer available].

Three businesses (a diner, a pharmacy, a check cashing place) I called about the ordinance said they already had cameras installed that met the basic requirements, but would not talk about or weren’t aware of the logging requirement and that police access was mandatory.

The city is still working out details on enforcement and certification.

Impact

The city's requirements should be easy to meet. Because it does not require anything specific other than not using a VCR, these requirements could be fulfilled by almost any kit at a big box store. It also frees the city from having to put up more cameras and provides it an on-demand network it does not have to maintain.

However, without more specific requirements about image quality and that cameras don't have to record through the night call into question how good the footage, if any is captured, will be for identifying a perpetrator.

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