Philadelphia SafeCam Pays You To Install Cameras

By John Honovich, Published May 02, 2013, 12:00am EDT

In a time of declining government funding, one U.S. city is bucking the trend. Believe it or not, they are going to pay up to half the cost of installing new cameras. What's the catch and what's in it for them? We talked to the city and reviewed its program focused on getting more businesses to install surveillance systems.

The City of Philadelphia is reimbursing businesses for half the cost of new surveillance systems as long as businesses register their cameras with SafeCam, the police department's public safety camera network. SafeCam allows police to determine what cameras are in the vicinity of a crime. From there, they can contact the owner to get access to stored video.

The city will reimburse business owners 50% of the total cost up to $3,000 for a new surveillance system on a single property, but only exterior cameras qualify. This is an important limitation because typically local businesses deploy most of their cameras indoors. 

Rationale

The grant program was developed at the request of the mayor because of the negative impact crime was having on the city's commerce. The city hopes that incentivizing camera deployments, a joint venture between the Philadelphia Commerce Department and the police department, will help them solve and prevent crimes.

The city previously spent $16 million trying to set up its own camera network, but it has had problems from the start. If the SafeCam program can reach its goal to add cameras to around 200 businesses, that would be more functional surveillance cameras than the city has.

Eligibility

All businesses city-wide are eligible to participate in the program, but there are a few guidelines for a set-up to be eligible for reimbursement.

  • The cameras can be IP or analog camera connected to a networked based DVR, mounted outside of the building and show a clear, unobstructed view.
  • DVRs must have a dedicated channel for each camera in operation, record at least 15fps and store for 15+ days.
  • The total cost eligible for reimbursement is limited to parts, installation and camera licenses.

The city prefers businesses put the funds toward new surveillance equipment, but it will accept applications from businesses that want to upgrade to meet the requirements. Here is the full list of specifications.

Philadelphia has set aside $400,000 for the program.  

To apply, the city says businesses should send photos showing where they want to install the cameras and estimates from two contractors that include camera specifications. If approved, the city sends an award letter specifying the amount of reimbursement and the business can proceed with the purchase and installation.

After installation, cameras must be registered online with the SafeCam program.

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For now, the police won’t be watching any of the cameras live. The Philadelphia Police Department says it will only access archived footage related to criminal activity and it will never "utilize any information obtained to view footage/feeds directly from cameras owned by registrants." 

However, “requiring that cameras be IP-enabled paves the way for police to [eventually] have real-time access to video feed,” says Karen Lockhart Fegely, Director of Neighborhood Economic Development. 

Program Interest 

The city recently launched a media campaign to generate interest in the program. Thirteen businesses have applied since it began in March. Four of those applications have already been approved and one installation is complete. The city would not estimate how many cameras it will add, but says it hopes to provide funding to around 200 businesses.

"This is a pilot program. The outcomes of this program will be considered to determine whether additional funding is budgeted for its continuation," Fegely said.

IPVM Analysis

Cities spend a lot of money on surveillance and it's very expensive per camera -- $10,000 - $20,000 is not uncommon. With all Philadelphia's problems, the city's own cameras came out to be about $136,000 per functioning camera.

SafeCame gives the city a network of cameras for a fraction of the cost of doing it themselves, however, officials were unable to outline a clear strategy on how it would access the cameras live in the future.

Connecting to those cameras is going to be extremely problematic. How are they going to access the cameras over the Internet? How are they going to securely access cameras on 100 different networks that are behind firewalls? They can open up holes in firewalls, which is a clear security risk, or they could set up VPNs to each business, which is costly and complex plus may bring objections from the owners as well.

Another problem is being able to communicate / interface with so many different systems as businesses will obviously select many different platforms. If the city ever wants to watch cameras live, they will have to integrate with lots of different cameras and recorders. Even a PSIM will not be able to solve this unless they pay for expensive custom integrations with all the different random systems deployed at each business.

The city paid 80-90% less for a surveillance network, but the system maybe be 80-90% less functional because they're going to have a hard time putting together a way to access all of the cameras.

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