City Video Surveillance Guide

By Brian Rhodes, Published Jun 08, 2015, 12:00am EDT

This 31-page guide explains the key uses, design factors, and players in the City Surveillance market.

A global group of 60 integrators responded, each offering insights in selling, implementing, and maintaining metropolitan video surveillance systems.

Note: this is the second in our series. Also see: School Video Surveillance Guide

Questions Answered

We found and share these core data on city surveillance systems:

(1) Most Common Camera Locations

(2) PTZ vs. Fixed Cameras Usage

(3) Most Common Camera Manufacturers

(4) Most Common VMSes Deployed

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(5) Video Analytics Usage / Obstacle

(6) Wireless or Fiber Networking Selection

(7) Storage Types Selected

(8) Most Significant Installation and Power Problems

(9) Most Common System Integrations

(10) Primary Surveillance Goals

(11) Primary System Users

(12) Sources of Purchase & Maintenance Funding

(13) System Specifications Writers and Issues

(14) Biggest Surveillance Improvement Needed

The list below summarizes the key finding and patterns found:

  1. Camera Locations: The most important monitoring locations are heavy traffic areas and intersections.  The next priority is for 'common areas' like parks, town squares, and transportation hubs.  Finally, despite lower traffic, surveillance is often deployed in 'high crime' areas and to monitor critical infrastructure sites.
  2. Camera Usage: PTZs use is much higher than the industry average, with ~40%+ of all city cameras being PTZs and some systems with 80% PTZ cameras. The most common PTZ use case was covering intersections or large common spaces.
  3. Network: If existing fiber optic network is available, it is generally preferred and used for surveillance. However, wireless is typically deployed where existing networks are not available.
  4. Power is cited as the biggest installation problem.  Difficulties include locating the source, negotiating use, and making sure it is reliable enough to power cameras on a continual basis.
  5. The leading goal of city surveillance is situation awareness of events or traffic in the city. 'Forensic evidence' gathering is second. 
  6. Integration: Video integration to Police Dispatch and mapping platforms were common, however tying into other platforms like intrusion systems, access control, or fire alarms were not.
  7. Users: Police Departments are the most common regular users for both live and recorded video. Live monitoring by others generally is done by a separate independent monitoring group who often serve as a general resource for other agencies seeking surveillance capabilities.
  8. Cameras / VMSes: Purchasing premium camera and VMS brands were fairly common. Most major brands in either category received mentions, but the pricing advantages of manufacturer bundled cameras and VMS software results in many cities using proprietary solutions. 
  9. Analytics: LPR/ALPR analytics are the most common types used. 'Video' analytics were uncommonly used, e.g., loitering, face recognition, object left behind, or direction of travel analytics. The key barrier to wider adoption cited was inadequate performance given the cost.
  10. Storage: A clear majority used network based storage and storage redundancy. However, roughly 1/3rd did not, including a number using built-in DVR and NVR storage. Surprisingly, given these are city systems, many did not employ storage redundancy (e.g., RAID) because of cost.
  11. Specifications: Pitfalls for in writing specifications include avoiding bumbling consultants with dubious records leading city surveillance design work, and cutting corners like ignoring risk assessments and unwisely letting manufacturers steer specifications.
  12. Good specifications happen when an efficient team comprised from different agencies are lead by an internal technical expert who understands the technical constraints at play.
  13. Funding: Project funding is most often sourced from Police budgets or government grants, or a mix of the two. In some cases, the private sector contributes money for 'the common good'.
  14. Improvements: Many responses explained better and reliable video analytics would be immediately useful. Another common suggestion was to upgrade equipment features and quality in order to improve system impact.

The fourteen survey questions are examined in depth below:

Camera Locations

Question: What are the most common locations to deploy city cameras? Why? What are they used for?

Summary:  In general, major intersections and road arteries are high priority, with common areas with heavy pedestrian traffic or transient crowds next.  The major emphasis on these areas is for 'situational awareness' and quick reconnaissance if police-dispatchable events occur.

More than just rush-hour congestion and automobile accident awareness make intersections ideal locations. In general, the concurrent installation of traffic light controls or light poles means suitable surveillance mounting locations are ample, and a grid of surveillance cameras at major intersections can be used to track specific vehicle movement in a city if needed:


  • "Intersections for traffic and crime monitoring"
  • "City Streets and main traffic arteries are the big need. Cars can sometimes be traced quickly."
  • "Main street intersections, at least in Panama"
  • "All of the main parkways are monitored, with the four major roads covered for the entire length through the city. Specific vehicles can be followed if needed." 
  • "All the road junction and critical entry/exit."
  • "Crossroads and intersections to monitor traffic flow"
  • "As many intersections as they can afford "
  • "Traffic intersections, they are used for traffic and pedestrian traffic management"
  • "Intersections, in conjunction with the connected traffic light system"
  • "The most common locations used to deploy city cameras are for general viewing on streetscapes to to monitor traffic and pedestrian flows."

Common Areas

These places are generally where large groups of people openly congregate on a general basis, like recreational parks or city bus stations. 

  • "Around transit hubs. Used for crime prevention and post incident investigation."
  • "Squares(urban security) Intersections (road security) Green area (public security) Transportation (public security) Public utilities surveillance Vandalism prevention Generally speaking we are always asked for people identification and number plate recognition."
  • "Parks appear to have the most issues around us with bad people doing bad things."
  • "Public venue areas that are frequently used for special events. Surveillance to monitor concerts, parades, street parties, festivals, etc and is monitored from the PD as well as a mobile command unit nearby."
  • "Tourist areas with a lot of pick-pocketing."
  • "Parks, city buildings and city-run museums"
  • "Core downtown area, public parking structures, public parks and facilities, and "hot-spots" dictated by Community Oriented Policing (COPS) statistics."
  • "Parks - for our city the Park was a hub for drug traffic "

High Crime

The next tier of surveillance priorities fall to high-crime and critical infrastructure or sensitive asset areas.  Even though the overall population and density of subjects is lower, the risk is greater. In high-crime areas, cameras can often be deployed more safely and more discretely than assigning officers directly into the environment:

  • "Noted high crime areas. Predictive areas provide law enforcement "added eyes" on potential crime areas. Cameras are used to help detour crime and also aid as investigative evidence."
  • "The most common locations are street corners in troubled neighbors, and the business districts. The idea in our city is to make the people who visit the business district feel safe."
  • "They wanted them under bridges, and other random high crime areas, like inner city public neighborhood parks."
  • "Designated areas of concern. Used for public protection, crime, vandalism, anti-blight"
  • "High crime areas to monitor incidents of crime, Section 8 Housing areas, drug activity"
  • "Cameras are used to prevent crime, images are used for evidence, seaching for criminal activity."

Critical Infrastructure

And finally, common utility targets like electrical substations and water treatment plants are common surveillance areas.  Even though these locations may be remote and even unpopulated by pedestrians, the risk of leaving them unmonitored is too great:

  • "Maintenance yards for theft, air quality monitoring stations for vandalism and to view general air quality, Solid Waste department yards for city vehicle and public activity, animal shelters for general activity and animal treatment."
  • "Utility stations and substations. Most cameras are used as deterrents, however they all serve as investigation tools."
  • "Critical city facilities such as water treatment plants"
  • "All electrical stations and switch hubs are covered as a priority."
  • "Utilities are homeland security and protecting the water supply."
  • "Public works facilities subject to tampering"

PTZ vs. Fixed Cameras Percentage

Question: What percentage of cameras are fixed vs PTZ? Why? What drives that?

Summary: While fixed camera still hold a majority (deployed 60% of the time) , it is not significant and PTZs are used far more than 'traditional surveillance deployments (City deployments at 40% of the time).  PTZ use in City Surveillance is roughly 8 times greater than typical. (About 5% of the time for the average integrator.)  

Two drivers are key to this increased PTZ popularity:

1) City video systems are much more likely to have manned operators controlling PTZs

2)  Surveillance areas can be expansive and deep, often covering hundreds of feet in width and activity occurs anywhere within a camera's radius of coverage.

Those factors are commonly cited criteria in the color sections we break-out below:

Traffic and Public Spaces 

  • "PTZ cameras are mainly used for zooming picture when violation has been detected."
  • "PTZ are used for covering very large areas and for their optical zoom capability, i.e. looking for drugs trafficking in a corner of a square w/o being too close."
  • "Roughly all PTZs in intersections to be able to see the 4 ways."
  • "A vast majority of the systems seen are PTZ, as they deliver the largest area possible."
  • "80% PTZ, fixed used in important locations such as bridges and 'choke points', PTZ to allow for operator control in case of incidents."

Manned Operations Common

In order for PTZs to be used effectively, a manned operator must be able to manually take control and direct them to best advantage,  This requirement is often part of a City Surveillance deployment, where trained staff are manipulating views and monitoring camera feeds in real time:

  • "Law enforcement agencies tend to prefer PTZs (90%+ PTZ to fixed) because their officers are monitoring the system and tracking persons of interest/vehicles). If the system isn't monitored full time, a better blend of fixed cameras is used to provide surveillance (30% PTZ to fixed) or so."
  • "Tours to increase coverage as unable to view all cameras. Better detail. Used in live monitoring environment"
  • "PTZ to allow for operator control in case of incidents."
  • "In the areas that are monitored with live video, the PTZ cameras give the officers outstanding capabilities to "follow the action"."
  • "For High Crime areas, PTZs used by law enforcement to 'patrol'."
  • "The stations were typically covered by PTZ as live operators are on staff and activities are being watched real time."

Fixed Still Widely Adopted

However, familiar criticisms of PTZs are still common with many responses mentioning high price, manned operation requirements, and fixed megapixel cameras being good enough to avoid deploying PTZ more than absolutely necessary:

  • "80% fixed megapixel cameras. Doesn't require operator assistance and also tends to cover more areas than that of a PTZ."
  • "85% fixed and 15% PTZ. PTZ's get lost and are not always looking at key areas of concern. Fixed cameras see the problem and PTZ can be positioned on the needed area."
  • "90%Fixed. If it's important enough to watch, dedicate a camera to it."
  • "I'd say it's probably close to 90+% that are fixed now that megapixel is fairly mainstream. PTZ's anymore are only used to supplement the static cameras and are used for those municipalities that have a team available to operate them."
  • "All fixed, easier with megapixel cameras and PD dispatch in small towns dont have manpower to operate PTZ cameras, plus cost is a issue."

Common Camera Manufacturers

Question: What camera manufacturers do you most often see in city surveillance systems? Why they are chosen?

Summary: Mainstream premium brands were commonly cited. No single brand is the heavy favorite, and in total over 25 brands were mentioned, many representing 'legacy' analog brand incumbents. Some of the more commonly cited brands are broken out below:


  • "Axis units are consistently reliable, easy to troubleshoot, very "wireless friendly" and can be sourced with a 5-year warranty, which is significant when discussing a solution with a customer."
  • "AXIS because is perceived as a quality leader"
  • "Axis, marketing and consultants."
  • "Axis is specified most often - that's all a non-integrator knows. Specs are regurgitated multiple times."
  • "Axis - readily available and considered "Top of the Line"
  • "Axis, because of compatibility with VMS systems"


  • "Bosch (MIG) to be able to see below the camera. And they are able to tolerate the cold in winter."
  • "Cities here prefer Bosch.  Some of it is legacy, but the IP lines continue to be good."
  • "Bosch - customer mandates based on this"
  • "Bosch. I don't know why, they said its from consultant & have been agreed by government."
  • "Bosch and Pelco, that's what was around long ago when the program got started."


  • "Pelco has historically targeted this segment from day one in our market and are successful with complete system offering. "
  • "Incumbents are more relevant, Pelco and Bosch specifically. Again mostly from inertia, it is because it is what they have. But those brands are more established and connected to governments and I would call it the IBM effect."
  • "Pelco, due a strong legacy of good performance PTZ cameras."
  • "Pelco was in the door when things started, and things have just grown based on that.  Good equipment."


  • "Panasonic - cities have a history of using them."
  • "We see many Panasonic cameras around here in city accounts."
  • "Panasonic, very active sales team"
  • "Panasonic is the legacy choice."
  • "Panasonic competes with brand and image quality."


  • "Brands like Sony have the most trusted reputation."
  • "We installed Sony; competitors quoted everything from Axis to Panasonic to Bosch."
  • "We usually use Sony cameras with bullet proof housing. We have consider other cameras, but the Sony cameras work great and we see no need to change."
  • "Sony and Bosch, name recognition I believe"
  • "Sony and Axis. Brand, quality, breadth of product line."

Multiple Lines Common

However, the majority of answers gave more than a single brand.  The underlying sentiment explaining the reason is summed up in this color quote:

"I believe you will find all of the major manufacturers in these environments. You should be camera agnostic in these environments in order to select the best camera for the site."

Indeed, regardless of the particular reasons, most city surveillance integrators reported using multiple brands:

  • "Axis, Pelco, Samsung & Sony as they are all good and proven brands."
  • "Bosch, Hikvision, Sony...main reason for choosing cameras is unfortunately price."
  • "Initially we used Pelco. Our last phase used Axis."
  • "Arecont, and Bosch.  Mostly those, but others at times when situation called for it."
  • "We have used Honeywell, Hikvision, and Panasonic in our city systems.  Different strengths for all."
  • "AXIS, Panasonic and Pelco. The specifications of the camera fit what is needed. Customer often has an idea of what manufacturer they prefer and we try to keep to what they are comfortable with."
  • "Cameras are chosen based on 'real' driver support by the VMS, NOT ONVIF. Manufacturers can vary, with minimum standard quality/capability."

Common VMSes Deployed

Question: What VMSes do you most often see in city surveillance systems? Any idea why they are chosen?

Summary:  As with cameras, brand preferences did not fall to any one player.  Several of the larger incumbent VMS providers were mentioned:


  • "All of our installations use Genetec Security Center because of the ALPR component. Having the ability to mix & match the ALPR functions seamlessly with the surveillance component is the single more significant selling point. However, the Plan Manager GPS mapping component is also a powerful motivator."
  • "Genetec is very prevalent in our area. They did a good job selling larger municipalities on the federation inter-connectivity benefits."
  • "We chose Genetec for our system over several others."
  • "We went with Security Center.  Expensive but worth it."
  • "Larger scale systems seem to be using Genetec"
  • "Here in Belgium like 90% of the police department works on genetec, so it's obvious that they want to built on that platform"


  • "We are using Milestone. We started this project back in 2007 when Milestone was the clear leader in VMS market and so far its working fine for the customer."
  • "Milestone because of the wide availability. Some of the existing OEMs compatible with Milestone that  integrators needed to re-use from previous projects."
  • "Milestone is most often chosen for ease of use and volume of customer support outside of the company's provisions."


  • "Exacq. Reliable and easy to use."
  • "Our experience is around OnSSI, Exacq and Genetec. We are an OnSSI and Exacq shop."
  • "Exacq (or Milestone). Typically bid spec"
  • "ONSSI and Exacqvision. When combining standalone systems, the majority of installed base became the standard."

Uncommon Brands Common

However, it is clearly apparent that customization and otherwise fringe offerings find a home in the city surveillance vertical:

  • "Mainly we use custom made VMSes because they are oriented to the client requests and are custom made."
  • "Nice, Verint, IBM IOC... These have proven case studies so police prefers and also integration."
  • "Endura, Milestone (chosen due to Axis), Seetec (chosen due to price)"
  • "We are in the process of switching things over from Mirasys in a 5 year plan."
  • "Geuterbruk with some Bosch and DVTEL"
  • "NICE Situator was already specified when we became involved."
  • "The only Honeywell Maxpro install we service is one of these huge (city) accounts."
  • "Vicon, Synectics, Meyertech, DVTEL all used widely in the UK because they have the features required in the UK (e.g. video export and evidential trail), and because they have the required interfaces to the legacy analogue CCTV systems."
  • "Mostly two Korean VMSes being used. (Innodep and Realhub) They are very good at customizing their software to meet the specific demands of local authorities."
  • "We deploy a proprietary VMS and Milestone. We have seen many, many, others. I don´t see a technical decisión factor in general, but the economic & oportunistic drivers (influence of the SIer or consultant who recommended the VMS, G2G agreements, etc)"

Bundle Deals Appealing

Another theme was the appeal of camera manufacturers VMS programs bundled with the purchase of cameras. Instead of buying addition VMS licenses from a 3rd party platform, several city systems used the propretary viewing and management software to save money:

  • "Same VMS as the camera manufacturer. Because they are included & bundle pricing."
  • "They usually use the manufacturer provided VMSes, i.e.: HIKVISION iVMS, Geovision GV-NVR/Control Center, AVTECH's CMS. Typically government authorities put out a bid and after the supplier has won the contract, said supplier wants to "push" their own software solution and government are pretty comfortable dealing with a single software platform from a single supplier (no need to contact different manufacturers for dealing with hardware and software problems). The monitoring staff typically do NOT have a say in which software is used. They are trained ("forced") into the usage of whatever software was ultimately purchased."
  • "Our biggest customer uses (Pelco) Endura because it was given away with the cameras they bought."

Video Analytics Use

Question: How often are video analytics or license plate recognition being used? What types? Why or why not?

Summary:  Video analytics for city deployments are mixed. While license plate reading is the most common type used, other analytics like loitering, tripline and (science fiction-based?) behavioral analytics are typically avoided. Even if interest exists, it is not significant enough or prove valuable enough for mainstream use:

LPR and ALPR Common

Of all types of analytics, use of LPR/ALPR is most accepted. Several comments mentioned that it proves reasonably reliable in field use and is valued by law enforcement:

  • "License plate recognition software is often being used in Perimeter cameras now a days. It can being very useful in tracking who is entering and leaving a premises."
  • "ALPR has been hugely successful for our LE customers that understand where to deploy the systems and have a reasonable expectation for what they want to accomplish."
  • " LPR and analytics are being used more in high crime areas to understand who may be coming into a particular area. "
  • "LPR is the most popular analytic, especially for parking lots and such."
  • "LPR was desired, but could not be afforded. (Would have been separate, dedicated cams, of course.) VA would not have been remotely cost-effective at the time."
  • " 75% of the systems that we have deployed use ALPR as part of the system. This adds a proactive crime-fighting element to the system and provides the statistical feedback that law enforcement needs to garner continued support. "
  • "LPR is used often, because is realiable. Other video analytics is often not "ready" to provide value, especially because outdoor situations are very very unpredicatable and IV seems unable to cope."

Other Analytics Are Not

However, outside of the license plate reading niche, other analytics are avoided:

  • "LPR in some very specific points to key track of cars entering / leaving area or city Other analtics are not really used yet."
  • "Minimally at this point, will likely become used more in the future as systems are upgraded."
  • "Analytics never have worked the way the are claimed to work. Sorry, just the truth."
  • "Video Analytics are not used.  Too costly, too little benefit."
  • "Video analytics other than motion detection, and LPR is minimal. Reasons? - Analytics chosen for such a large deployment has been a challenge technically for this customer."
  • "(Video Integrated) Gun shot detection has been used in two forms, i am not going to name names, but the previous one did not perform up to par, or at all. "
  • "Video analytics are talked about, demonstrated and evaluated. In all cases analytics have come up short of meeting 100% of clients needs."

Wireless or Fiber Networking Use

Question: What percentage of cameras are connected via fiber vs wireless? What drives that?

Summary:  In general, if fiber capacity is available near the point of connection it is used as a first option. However, due to the overall higher cost and longer installation time of new fiber, wireless networking is common especially for new systems or where city populations are smaller.

Fiber Expansion

The clear feedback about fiber is that it is preferred for reliability if already available. Most responses describing widespread fiber use mentioned it was already available which drove adoption:

  • "About 75% via fibre, particularly where fibre already exists. Most new systems use wireless - either private broadband, or 3G/4G."
  • "We have enjoyed both types but fiber is becoming much more common. Now, it it 70% fiber and 30% wireless."
  • "In many cities they have a fiber network already in place so most will be fiber connected in some way often times as much as 95-99%"
  • "It's about half and half - fiber is preferred where possible."
  • "All cameras are connected via fiber. This was driver by a specification requirement but also by the availability of such infrastructure through the national telecommunications company. The cost of leasing the fiber was considered at that time to be beneficial."
  • "75% fiber. Due to infrastructure and the availability of fiber in remote or sometimes rural areas. "
  • "Mostly through ISP Fiber. It is very difficult run on wireless due to obstacles. End connectivity might be wireless such as traffic junctions."

Wireless is Easier

However, when it comes to ease of installation and lower cost, wireless networking is deployed. Even given the reliability and performance limitations, the deployment flexibility benefits especially are suited where 'right-of-way' negotiations could take years or where the overall thinner population density makes justifying fiber install difficult:

  • "Fiber simply isn't available in many places, but water and communication towers are plentiful, and make for great wireless link sites."
  • "Better than 75% of the cameras that we have deployed are wireless because it would be too cost prohibitive to install fiber for connectivity."
  • "100% wireless. Implementation & maintenance cost drives that."
  • "Wireless is the the most prevalent, cost of ownership is key"
  • "100% wireless. No accessible fiber to make point to point connections"
  • "The majority cameras are connected by wireless. Unless there is pre-existing municipal fiber, most cameras are connected by wireless. I have a municipal customer that has fiber, but it was installed for traffic management and they won't share it with the PD for security cameras. Installing fiber is so expensive, it can't be justified for security cameras alone. Also, camera density varies greatly. Wireless is very flexible, from dense mesh, point-to-multipoint and just point-to-point, if needed."
  • "Some facilities are far out of town and not easily connected without fixed wireless links."

Cost Driven Decision

Indeed, total cost - not performance or reliability - is shown to be the deciding factor for most considering which option to use.  This heavily favors wireless:

  • "20% fiber vs 80% wireless, cost is the driver"
  • "A larger percentage are connected via wireless networks due to it being much more feasible with urban environments. To run a fiber line to a camera, there can not be and obstructions or elements which could damage the wire. This would require more planning, protection and would drive up cost to install as it would likely require impeding foot/vehicle traffic to do so."
  • " Preparing the fiber infrastructure is expensive and takes ages to be installed."
  • "95% wireless, cost and speed to deploy is the biggest driver"
  • "The cost to deploy fiber to certain areas outweighs the benefits, hence the need for wireless."
  • " If there are alot of cameras nearby, fiber tends to be more cost effective, but if they are scattered, wireless typically becomes the more cost effective solution."
  • "At the moment, 90% are connected with fiber, but all new cameras are using wireless to reduce cost."

Population Factor

As an indirect function of cost, several responses noted that smaller populations typically use wireless. Smaller cities are more likely to lack the existing fiber or funds to install hardwired surveillance, so they employ radios:

  • "90% fiber in big cities, more wireless in less populated cities"
  • "Small municipalities (up to 10,000 inhabitants) are 100% wireless. Big cities are a mixed solution there are aggregation points for wireless along cabled network. "
  • "Parks are wireless b/c to lay fibre for a few cameras is too expensive."
  • "Depending o the city size, general economic situation, and maturity of the telecom network this will vary a lot. I would say that average may be 65% Fiber, 35% wireless, but dispersion is very high."
  • "It's about half and half - fiber is preferred where possible. Some facilities are far out of town and not easily connected without fixed wireless links."

Storage Types Deployed

Question: What type of storage is used? DAS? NAS? SAN? Storage redundancy or not? Why?

Summary: A clear majority used network based storage and storage redundancy. However, roughly 1/3rd did not, including a number using built-in DVR and NVR storage. Surprisingly, given these are city systems, many did not employ storage redundancy (e.g., RAID) because of cost.


The minority that did not employ storage redundancy emphasized the cost of it:

  • "Storage redundancy rarely used, due to budget limitation."
  • "No due to heavy cost."
  • "No redundancy due to cost"
  • "Have no redundancy. Cost are always a factor."
  • "Redundancy is considered too expensive."
  • "Redundancy for Public Safety is becoming more popular but is limited by budget constraints."

As one integrator summed up the tradeoffs: "Mostly there is redundancy but not always. It really depends on money and the caliber of the person in charge of the design on the city's team."

No respondent said the stored video was not that critical, but the fact that such a non-trivial percentage forego redundancy implies to us that many city systems can simply live with infrequent loss of recorded video.

Network Based Storage

Most respondents cited using network based storage, whether it be a NAS of SAN, as explained in the comments below:


  • "Mainly NAS are used because of easier transfer over WAN network."
  • "NAS because is cheap."
  • "We have gone with DDN NAS for stability and better redundancy since entire setup is being used by POLICE and they need more than 60 days of quality recording for all the cameras."
  • "NAS with redundancy in case there is a drive failure."
  • "NAS in a few locations and redundancy between locations."


  • "Usually a central SAN. Many systems have legacy analogue cameras so still use DVRs."
  • "San. Speed. Flexibility. No redundancy due to cost."
  • "SAN with internal redundancy. Right now it's dedicated for video use. The municipality has a large storage array for all services however it was determined a separate storage facility for video would be more cost effective based on the large amount of retention required."

A minority used locally attached or integrated storage. Some of those mentioned direct attached storage:


  • "Mostly DAS at the moment. Mainly because of industry's notion that DAS is the most reliable."
  • "Relatively few cameras, so DAS. We don't install systems over 8 cameras without RAID."
  • "All video is stored on DAS without redundancy, but we are trying to get the funding to upgrade it to a NAS with redundancy."
  • "Normally DAS with at least RAID 5 storage redundancy."

And a distinct, and somewhat surprising minority, admitted using storage built into NVR or even DVR appliances:

  • "Simple systems that are easily equated to the DVR/NVR architecture and favored by less sophisticated customers.
  • "Local storage with NVR/DVR then clips are offloaded to a police server."
  • "DVRs are centrally used." (noted older deployment)
  • "NVRs are used more often. IT storage systems require more expert manpower to maintain."
  • "All recording done at the NVR level. No offsite or redundant storage yet. I don't think they see any value or have the need for that level of redundancy yet."

Common Install & Power Problems

Question: What types of problems occur when installing cameras or providing power to cameras?

Summary:  In general, 'power' IS the biggest install problem. Not only is finding a proper source an issue, but the overall quality of the source is also a classic pitfall, which often leads to adding expensive power conditioning equipment.

The most common non-power install issue is simply navigating the physical location of camera mounts. The mix of high-crime areas and major roadways often put installer crews at risk and requires coordination with various law enforcement or utility agencies.

Power Availability

  • "Many, if not most light poles are owned by the electric utility rather than the municipality. They often don't allow attachment of security cameras without a court order. Court orders are ok for short term investigative cameras, not long term permanent systems. So, we have to be very creative in looking for attachment locations and power sources. It is not uncommon to set a new pole and meter base and have electric service installed. It varies from town to town."
  • "Getting power from the power company can take time as the power guys typically have more important jobs to do"
  • " Power at the intersection is usually above 240 AC, and its a problem with low voltage techs to drop the power down effectively at each location."
  • "Power outages during rainy season - poles gets damaged, runs out of UPS. Can't detect until camera runs out of UPS."
  • "Availability of power is the biggest problem. For this reason cameras are often mounted on lamp-posts or on buildings where power is available. In some cases we use solar power for remote roadside cameras."
  • "System design needs to incorporate a pre survey to ensure that available power nearby can be given. On the projects we designed we were required to design connections to available power supplied by electricity company."
  • "Access to the telephone/light pole is usually a battle between the pole owner and the city. If the light pole is used, can usually use a LPT - light pole power tap. If not, may need a power bridge. Power bridge requires a large enclosure which is also high heat inside - bad for electrical components."
  • "Trouble in getting power to the poles, and in cases where running power may not be feasible, using a solar option."

Dirty Power

Working with less than ideal sources is another issue. Unlike lights that operate on low-quality high voltages, cameras need supplies stepped-down and well controlled steady signal to operate well. The additional and frequently unexpected expense of cleaning up dirty power is a leading issue:

  • "A common issue seen in city environments is dirty power. Larger cities tend to allocate their power to certain grids during brownouts. If a system is not running on an external UPS, brownouts could cause damage to the cameras which are typically recording in a continuous manner."
  • "UPS power is a must as power fluctuations can be a big cause for network downtime or service interruption. Monitoring of the UPS is critical for identifying problem areas for power loss/brown out. "
  • "Normally electricity is very unstable and damages equipment installed on outdoors. Installing a UPS, power regulator and surge protectors works but it makes an expensive installation."
  • "In Panama, we have several areas that are so over populated, voltage fluctuations are common."
  • "Low quality and availability of conditioned lines. Especially in high demand systems like transit and hospital." 
  • "Taking power from poles is messy"
  • "Trouble when we tap into the streetlight circuit and need to power an outdoor UPS to feed the surveillance equipment."

Treacherous Mounting Areas

No one said installing cameras is easy work, but it can be downright scary in many of the areas where city surveillance is most useful:

  • "We have been dubbed "Murder Town USA" and felt we would be directly putting our techs in the middle of turf and gang wars. "
  • "Due to the installation height, special and expensive to own or even to rent equipment is required for each camera. Moreover, the police is required to be present in order to handle traffic management and curious or opposing civilians."
  • "The biggest issue with installing the cameras was the danger of the areas we were installing them in. People in those areas seem to sleep in pretty late, so mornings are relatively safe, but you do not ever want to end up there after dark. Ever."
  • "Often citywide camera installations are in locations requiring special lifts and traffic control in order to deploy. "
  • "Closing traffic lanes during peak drive times"
  • "The biggest challenge is access to work areas, police cooperation, public interference and technician safety."
  • "Typical city installations require areas to be cordoned off and sometimes traffic redirected to facilitate access to mounting locations. Although much of this work is done out of hours or in reduced activity periods preplanning is essential. "

Common Integrations

Question: What type of third party integrations (access control, intrusion, police dispatch, etc.) are typical?

Summary:  Most systems are built with direct integrations to Police Dispatch and many with some additional GIS or GPS mapping platform in mind.  In general, LPR/ALPR platforms carry the third spot, but beyond that integrations are sporadic and tend to be unpursued:

Police Dispatch

Putting Law Enforcement on the scene as quickly and efficiently as possible is the rationale behind the most popular 3rd party integration:

  • "Mostly there is integration with traffic police who monitor legal or illegal parking of cars."
  • "Police dispatch / video walls were our only real 3rd party integrations"
  • "Police dispatch is pretty much mandatory."
  • "Relevant POLICE dispatch is a typical in our setup."
  • "Systems usually monitored at police dispatch. Our deployments in smaller municipalities rarely have other integration. (Excluding jails which have full integration.)
  • "Mainly police dispatch integration, but some access control and intrusion as well."
  • "Normallly integration with police dispatch is requested, but is easily solved installing another system and not really integrating with video. "

Mapping Systems

Additionally, being able to accurately visualize where a camera is located and coordinate dispatch to that point essentially drives integration with mapping software:

  • "GIS/GPS - customized map for each city e.g. nearest landmarks, jurisdictions, etc AND tracking the patrolling vehicles Emergency helpline system: 100 (similar to 911 in US) with GIS to identify nearest patrolling vehicles, hospitals, etc."
  • "Vid Center with Boston Police. intergrations with Shot detection systems."
  • "The integrations are actually weak and badly planned. We're working on that!"
  • " Geolocation for patrols is requested"
  • "GPS mapping of the camera locations in the VMS software is also common and helps the officers keep track of the camera locations in proximity to the city layout."


Finally, as noted in the 'Video Analytics' section, license plate reading platforms are another common element of city surveillance:

  • "License plate recognition. People counting also based on bluetooth / wifi signals Still very limited use of so-called intelligent cameras as these typically fail in the crowded city situations."
  • "For our law enforcement clients, fixed ALPR deployment is a critical tool and is the single most important integration."
  • "Automated License Plate Recognition is the most common integration for our installations. These ALPR units are located throughout the City and provide "hotlist" notifications for wanted vehicles. These alerts help first police to isolate these vehicles as well as provide forensic information to help solve crimes in the area. "
  • "License Plate Recognition, first responder workforce dispatching, GIS event mapping, among others."
  • "Systems were integrated to ANPR in certain locations where budget allowed."

Gunfire Detection

To a much lesser extent, gunshot detection analytics are deployed to help zero-in on trouble as it occurs. However, performance on these systems are mixed at best and we do not expect the integration niche to significantly grow with existing technology:

  • "We installed PTZ cameras specifically to integrate with ShotSpotter. Dispatch can view the cameras, and officers would be able to view them in their vehicles if they had better mobile data connections."
  • "The only integration we are using now is the Shot Spotter, which is mediocre at best."
  • "Gunshot alerts are some of the integrations asked for by city municipalities."
  • "Audio detection for gunshots."

Others Uncommon

Beyond that, integrations are thin, with several comments noting cost typically keep systems separate:

  • " I would say that no integrations are 'typical' as the usual integrations we see on sites is not used (access control and intrusion)."
  • "Very few integrations. The CCTV systems is typically used in a multi-disciplinary control room with radio despatch, etc. but these are usually separate systems."
  • "I would say that no integrations are 'typical' as the usual integrations we see on sites is not used (access control and intrusion). Systems were integrated to ANPR in certain locations where budget allowed."
  • "Not many. We have only integrated to other VMSs to grab cameras that others have installed"
  • "I have not had any other integration other than police."

System Objectives

Question: What is the main objective / use of the city surveillance system?

Summary:  Keeping tabs on and discouraging crime was cited as the primary system goal, however visual records of events and general traffic monitoring were also commonly cited.

Crime Deterrence/Prevention

The clear primary goal of city surveillance is to enhance public safety by effective collection of events that may not be able to be seen with limited law enforcement manpower.

  • "Main objective is city safety and decreasing of illegal actions."
  • "Cameras cause criminals to do their illegal activity elsewhere."
  • "Crime deterrence and evidence gathering for possible crimes. Some cameras have multi-purpose such as traffic monitoring, crime deterrence and illegal dumping etc."
  • "Crime prevention and reduction, evidence gathering for cases"
  • "To improve overall public safety"
  • "Public safety (crime, drug dealing, public disorder)"
  • "To improve overall public safety."
  • "Crime deterrent for the most part."

Collect Evidence

However, in some cases deterrence is seen as futile, and video simply becomes the primary method of gathering proof of crimes and which parties were involved:

  • "Deter crime and then for post incident evidence."
  • "ALPR and recorded video has been invaluable in helping solve past crimes."
  • "Mostly is for investigation after an events occur. The need evidence."
  • "#1 is to catch video of criminals violating rules or laws."
  • "The ALPR function is very useful for solving and managing active cases while in some cases live video has been critical to apprehending and prosecuting crimes witnessed by the system."
  • "Provide raw evidence when required. It allows law enforcement to have an eye in the sky."
  • "Deter crime and obtain evidence as needed."
  • "The system is (unfortunately) mainly used as a traffic monitoring system and a forensic tool in order to try and figure out incidents. It has been a quite successful forensic tool but the true potential of the system is yet to be revealed. "

Traffic Monitoring

In many cases, the prime goal is not criminal law enforcement, but automobile activity monitoring. Many responses noted that overall situational awareness of traffic was the key deliverable:

  • "Traffic enforcement (bus lanes, average-speed, parking, etc.)"
  • "Monitoring of road ways for traffic flow"
  • "Catch drivers violating traffic laws."
  • "Traffic control, emergency response"
  • "Monitor traffic on critical areas and to monitor unusual activities in popular areas are primary objective."
  • "Delivering traffic info to media outlets, and providing information on existing traffic signalling devices to the traffic dept."
  • "Many cities have a separate system for traffic management."

 Police Force Multiplier

Finally, some responses noted a key benefit to surveillance is helping to stretch tightening resources further through more effective allocation of officers and improving response times by being the 'eye in the sky':

  • "To allow the police to monitor more areas with less manpower."
  • "better coordination between those in a central monitoring station overviewing "almost" everything and the police officers in the ground."
  • "The systems are most certainly a force multiplier for the law enforcement agencies."
  • " Keep an eye on the City, provide actionable intelligence of what's happening."

Biggest Users

Question: Who uses the city surveillance system? Are there dedicated staff monitoring cameras? Why or why not?

Summary: Unsurprisingly, Police Departments are the most commonly citied users. However, a variety of smaller and lower-profile general city agencies also are common users. In general, when user agencies are part of larger municipalities, live operators are more commonly employed. Not all cities, and certainly not all cameras are monitored live:

Police/First Responders

Law Enforcement is clearly the primary user, if not a big stakeholder, in most city surveillance systems:

  • "The Police uses it. There are dedicated Police officers as the system is mainly used to fight crime."
  • "The police dept uses the system. There is dedicated staff monitoring the cameras 24x7."
  • "Police use the system. They have dedicated staff because for taking evidence, reporting."
  • "Police forces with dedicated staff."
  • "The police are the biggest consumers. Some systems are monitored, some aren't."
  • "Police departments, typically there is special trained staff."
  • "Typically we setup a video wall in the E911 center. The PD or sheriffs department will operate the system. Detectives in criminal investigations are permitted to search and access the system. There are typically not dedicated staffs to the camera systems, but then we are doing very large cities."

City Government

To a lesser degree, the biggest users are general city/non-deputized officers. While the employing agency varies, city surveillance is typically a general resource that multiple member agencies can utilize if needed:

  • "City utilities dispatchers. In some locations. Gates and high traffic areas are up on monitors all the time, but they are rarely watched from a command center type of facility."
  • "The City Security group (not Genedarmerie) monitors live, and works to supporting others."
  • "City employees dedicated to the video system in larger cities. In smaller cities, no staff dedicated to monitoring. On event only."
  • "Usually local government. Yes, there are dedicated staff for monitoring, because they paid to do that job."
  • "80% of them are public servicemen dedicated for monitoring. 20% are come from police. More and more district are hiring servicemen dedicated for monitoring to reduce the fixed costs related to staffing."
  • "National and local government. Staff is dedicated due to confidentiality of information."
  • "City utilities dispatchers. In some locations. Gates and high traffic areas are up on monitors all the time, but they are rarely watched from a command center type of facility."

Live Monitoring

Despite the high cost of employing trained operators, most cities use live operators.  Coverage is not always full-time, but many responses included the priority of staffing as key to overall system effectiveness:

  • "Dependent on the city, the majority of organisations operate a reactive system. Others however operate dedicated control rooms which provide a 24/7 response. It purely comes down to the financial aspect versus the risk associated with reactive response."
  • "Various agencies use this. No one stares at the screens."
  • "There aren't dedicated staff monitoring cameras."
  • "In big cities, some people (not even police) have been trained to use the system."
  • "Police, city planning, they are not monitoring 24/7"
  • "Some systems are monitored, most aren't due to manpower cost."
  • "The customer could not afford dedicated monitoring staff. Besides, we all know how well people can monitor big screens filled with cameras for extended periods of time."

Purchase and Maintenance Funding

Question: What organization or division pays for the city surveillance system? How do they get the money?

Summary:  In most cases, funding comes from law enforcement agency budgets, special grants or government bonds, or a mix of both. However, a surprising number of funding responses describe the primary role the private sector plays, with community-oriented charities and businesses contributing cash to the systems: 

Police Budget/Funding

  • "In almost all cases, the law enforcement agency itself does the procurement and maintains the system once it's completed."
  • "The Police department. They get the funding from the Ministry of Internal Affairs or the central government."
  • "Police Modernization funds and central government Ministry of Home Affairs"
  • "Usually funded by police department, I am uncertain how they request those funds but I know it goes thru the city council."
  • "Interior Ministry(POLICE) pays for the system and they get the budget approval from PMO."
  • "Usually law enforcement. Various sources - seized funds, budgets, etc."

Government Grants

  • "City surveillance systems may be funded through various means typically though government grants"
  • "We see the money come from the municipality."
  • "National or local government, funding is from the government treasury."
  • "Our experience has been the cities have funded these initiatives. Often the money comes from insurance recovered monies due to losses where individuals have been charged. In other cases Federal money for infrastructure has led to making these projects go ahead."
  • "For years Homeland security funding (UASI) was the main funding source."

Private Sources

  • "The majority of the funding comes from private donation from the major business in the city.  I don't know exact percentages, but it was a group of executives from the local business community that founded the program, got its approval and has been working the program for 15 years or more."
  • "Private companies. The money comes from big companies or individuals that want to have access to the system in case of a security emergency. Not all companies are allowed to access the system there is a strict process of selection."
  • "We see local businesses and private sector organizations contribute most of the purchase monies when the government raises the idea."
  • "The businesses pay for a portion of the staff, and the city pays for the rest. It is run by a contractor that is actively seeking to expand the system by getting developers and community organizers to agree to pay for additional cameras and staff in redevelopment areas."
  • "Typically the money is found through charity, improvement taxes, or some personal means."

Traffic Fines

Some responses noted that funding also comes from the collection of fines, often from evidence or events directly collected by the video system:

  • "More and more, city-centre CCTV systems are also being used to enforce road traffic regulations and this generates income from fines."
  • "Money came from European projects for urban security/smart cities/etc. and from traffic fines."
  • "Criminal levies and fines are used to fund video improvements and maintenance."
  • "Part comes from grants, but other sources include traffic fees and excessive speed or parking fines." 

Who Writes the Specifications?

Question: Who typically writes the city surveillance system specification? Does this result in good results? Why or why not?

Summary:  The pitfalls of poor design are almost always anticipated, and many cities try to ward off bad buys buy employing security consultants.  However, this does not always guarantee a good result due to inconsistent skills and involvement on those consultants. 

In general, the 'bad results' are where security consultants used boilerplate or outdated specs, where manufacturers are allowed too much latitude to write spec language, or where inexperience causes undue focus on 'paper specifications' rather than on translating them to practical performance.

Consultants Used Often

Again, when projects are worth millions, system design is often entrusted to security consultants.  The end result generally depends entirely on whether the consultant is a good resource or not:

  • "City specifications are typically written by consultants. The general scoping is usually completed by the stakeholder and then passed across to consultant. In many cases the resultant specification is not of a high-quality as it does not delineate the relevant outcomes to a sufficient degree. This may be due to the consultant not being current with his knowledge of closed-circuit television, especially IP-based systems and the associated technologies that interface with modern networks today."
  • "It is always written by a consultant working for the police/local-government authority."
  • "Specifications are usually written by consultants. For the most part, consultants understand the needs and the available technology. They tend to understand more of the daily operational concerns as opposed to city written specs."
  • "The city wide specifications are typically done by a consultant for security. The better specifications come from security consultants who understand how to right for risk and allow technology to be proposed by competent integrators."
  • "The specification was initially written by consortiums of specifier companies and submitted for deployment before the Olympic games. Unfortunately the same specification is still active and any system expansions are implemented according to it."

Bad Results

However, clear measures of a 'bad system' are not always because a consultant flubbed the job. Indeed, several responses noted the fallacy of manufacturer-spec'd solutions, incomplete risk assessments, or just poor designers unfortunately being the root cause:

  • "First draft come from one of the existing contractor. Consultants add part for specific issue. The quality is poor. No risk assessment has been done."
  • "It's mostly written by tender agencies, who mostly don't have the experience. They mostly pick something from tender a, and tender b, and mix it all together in a new tender C. Which mostly lead to unclear specifications."
  • "Focusing only on the "paper specifications" like number of megapixel is a problem for having installation able to provide hi-quality images."
  • "Some specs are good, but they are often too influenced by specific manufacturers who have a good relationship with the consultant."
  • "Engineering firm. Usually not complete, thorough, up-to-date. Integrator has to do complete survey of power, visibility, site security, etc. that the engineering firm usually doesn't do."
  • "Specifications developed by "security consultants" are either overblown, out of date technically or unfairly brand prejudiced. Forget A&E consultants. Can security consultants and A&E firms add value, yes. But only in specific areas to insure the right questions are asked and answered, not to design the solution exclusively."

Good Results

Conversely, what makes a specification good?  Several responses mentioned what works best, which typically described cross-disciplined and well-managed spec committees, and at least one internal technology expert that can help guide (if not lead) the process and convey the right goals.

  • "In house government. Works well if has technical experience otherwise can be guides by unscrupulous salesman"
  • "The police write it and then pay a third party (unbiased) consultant to modify it and get it to make sense. This is a very effective method."
  • "The person writing the spec needs to understand the technology they are buying and how it works."
  • "The ones that have been written by a committee (involving the IT, police and utility departments) are most thoughtful and comprehensive."
  • "The best systems are developed with a PD / Sheriff department partners/collaborates with an experienced systems integrator who has previously designed and deployed municipal size video surveillance systems."

Biggest Improvement Needed

Question: How would you improve the city surveillance systems you have worked on?

Summary:  Cities desperately want video analytics that work. The clearest single answer was just that. However, several responses noted that an overall improvement in quality and features of cameras, networks, and recording hardware would offer the best improvement.

Video Analytics that Work

  • "More and more requests about video analytics but their expectations are too high for the current analytics to meet."
  • "With effective face recognition algorithms, we could do wonders by detecting suspected criminals presense."
  • "We would like to improve it by adding video analytics."
  • "Upgrades with newer video analytics"
  • "Use Analytics to assist in the monitoring."

Better/Upgraded Hardware

Not everyone is waiting on analytics to deliver.  In fact, several responses noted that the straightforward improvement of existing surveillance gear would be a big boon to the system:

  • "Standardize on platform and cameras."
  • "Better cameras and better images is what we need most."
  • "We should upgrade the network infrastructure to support multicast."
  • "Our systems take so long to fully install, by the end the first cameras are obsolete."
  • "We could use MP cameras to replace some of the PTZs and lower costs."
  • "If Cities decided to buy good equipment in the beginning rather than learn the lesson of cheap junk in the beginning, the end result would be much better."
  • "Always use optical fiber if available, with devices to "tunnel" traffic from pole to recording / viewing site."
  • "We should upgrade the network infrastructure to support multicast."
  • "I would increase the bandwidth between servers and buildings, it current takes a long time to retrieve video between buildings."
  • "Build a complete system complete with fiber, mesh, 4G transport systems."
  • "Network architectures can be improved using more fiber nodes."
  • "Better preparation for the network architecture."

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