Requiring Video Surveillance At Gas Stations

By Carlton Purvis, Published on Apr 14, 2014

A crowd mobbed and beat a man into a coma after the man accidently ran over a 10 year old boy near a gas station in Detroit. Because of poor image quality and coverage, the police could not identify most of the suspects involved.

Now, the city of Detroit has passed a law mandating surveillance cameras in gas stations. However, until now, no one has reported on the actual technical and operational details of the ordinance.

IPVM looks at the technical feasibility and cost implication of the ordinance.

Less than Half Identified

So far only four out of what police suspect are 10 people have been identified and arrested for the beating of Steven Utash. Utash struck a 10-year-old boy with his truck as the boy stepped into the road. When he got out to check on him, he was attacked, police say. The city says that poor quality and poor placement of cameras at the gas station let the other attackers get away.

Ordinance Passed

Councilman Andre Spivey, who introduced the video surveillance ordinance (see page 6 to 10), says if the cameras outside the gas station had been better placed and had a higher pixel count, they would have been able to identify the additional suspects.

The ordinance was unanimously passed by Detroit City Council on April 8, 2014. The new rules apply to all self-service gas stations in Detroit and will be required from now on for them to obtain or renew a business license.

The ordinance is waiting on one last signature from the city’s emergency manager and gas stations will have until August to comply, a city official told IPVM.

The Requirements

The ordinance says gas stations must have surveillance "at all times" of any areas available to the public including parking areas, fuel pumps and air dispensers.

Specifications include:

  • Must record at a minimum of “seven images per second, per camera.”
  • Images must be stored for a minimum of 10 days.
  • Must be able to export in native file and an “industry standard file format” capable of playing on a Windows operating system.
  • 1/3” CCD Minimum
  • 480 TVL minimum resolution

Despite the councilman’s confidence that camera placement could have helped the outcome of the beating case, the camera placement portion of his ordinance doesn't give very detailed guidance.

Indoor Cameras

  • “Cameras shall be placed in areas that a person involved in illegal activity would use and at possible illegal points of entry."
  • Cameras must be “positioned so that the face of an individual can be seen,” except for cameras placed over point-of-sale areas.
  • If a viewing area is 65 feet or more and will be in low light conditions, two cameras (or a single camera with and IR range of 65 feet) are required.

Outdoor Cameras

  • Must have a minimum IR range of 35 feet. "Where the distance/area to be viewed is sixty-five (65) feet, this would require two (2) cameras or a single camera with an IR range of sixty-five (65) feet."
  • They must be placed to capture “all adjoining walkways of the business and commonly used ingress and egress points.”
  • Downward views are prohibited.

No PTZs

Touring PTZs cannot be used to satisfy the camera placement requirements “because of the amount of time required for most cameras to ‘sweep’ from side to side limits the capture of images significantly,” the city says. The official said they do not want there to be the opportunity to miss something happening and if a wide area needs to be viewed that is best done with multiple cameras.

4 Issues With the Requirements

We see 4 issues with the requirements:

  • 'CCD minimum' may restrict the use of CMOS imager cameras, which are predominant today and just as good or better. That said, we suspect the city would not object on such a low level technical issue.
  • No recording resolution / compression requirements: Regardless of the quality of the camera, without such a requirement, users could record at CIF to save on storage and technically still be compliant while capturing very poor video quality.
  • Specifying range rather than width of coverage means that there could be dead spots and/or areas where the FoV is so wide that the video captures insufficient details.
  • The specific range levels (35 or 65 feet) pose problems. Manufacturers routinely over specify their max ranges in their marketing material so even if the camera is rated for 65 feet, it might only be usable to 40 or 50 feet. Will the city be OK with that as long as the user shows proof that the manufacturer claims it or will the gas station have to verify the actual range is 35 / 65 feet?

Required to Turn Over Video

Like the White Plains, NY ordinance that makes surveillance mandatory for pawn shops, jewelry stores and check cashing businesses, the Detroit ordinance also requires the owner give police access when they ask for it.

And in some cases, “video system passwords shall be made available to authorized members of the Detroit Police Department to facilitate review of video recordings,” the ordinance says.

Other Security

In addition to cameras, any gas station that has had three or more criminal incidents at the location will be required to have additional security like guards.

Analysis

At first it looked like the trend was cities asking people to register their cameras so they knew where to look for footage after a crime. And while that is still happening, now it looks like some cities are comfortable outright mandating surveillance, essentially building a network they can access whenever they want/need to without having to pay anything.

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