Citywide Surveillance - Technology and Communications -

Citywide Surveillance

7 ways to get it right



Robert Keyes | From the June 2009 Issue Friday, June 18, 2010

Several years ago, when the concept of implementing a citywide surveillance system first occurred to us at Clovis (Calif.) Police Department, it seemed like no big deal. Plug in a few cameras; it’ll be easy. Not so.

Let me tell you a little about Clovis. We’re a community of a little fewer than 100,000 people spread across 23 square miles, and residents and local police officers pride themselves on being in the safest city in Central California. We keep the city safe by taking proactive steps to avert problems, and using closed-circuit television (CCTV) is one of our methods. During good budget times, the police department is staffed at 116 sworn officers. Unfortunately, that number is dwindling because of the current budget crisis.

And with technology, as you know, budget is a huge issue. Cities can spend enormous amounts of money to no effect if they aren’t careful.  The other side of the coin: Cities and agencies can successfully leverage their financial resources if they use technology wisely and at the same time get others to help pay the tab.

Define Your Goal
A major factor in assessing the effective use of technology is asking, “What exactly does your community expect the technology to accomplish?”

In Clovis’s first foray into CCTV, about eight years ago, we were attacking a potential problem we felt was coming our way because of the construction of a new freeway through the city. We anticipated that the new freeway would provide an increased opportunity for crooks to visit the city, commit crimes and leave. To pro­actively battle this potential threat, we installed eight cameras, four to the east and four to the west, adjacent to a freeway exit. The intention was to archive video of traffic entering Clovis from that exit so we could retrieve it later and identify the vehicle and its occupants if something happened.

Although our vision was on the mark, the technology wasn’t there yet, and we were able to get a useful image only 10% of the time. Not what I would describe as a raging success. The laundry list of problems ranged from design issues to environmental factors beyond our control. Our lack of success could have been averted if we had performed a better and more complete analysis of all the issues we would later have to deal with. I won’t bore you with all the details, but one example I never imagined was the impact of the sun’s reflection on the asphalt, which resulted in poor image quality. If I had done a better job at my homework, I would have known about this factor. Part of our problem was that we relied on what the vendor “promised” instead of doing our own legwork.

So define what it is your city is trying to accomplish, and perform a complete analysis that allows you to look at all of the possible problems. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. If you’re going to implement a CCTV system, look at other cities that have them and replicate those systems. A cautionary note: Remember that what works in one environment might not work in another, so perform your analysis based on your circumstances.

Anyway, on with the story.

Although not particularly successful for our original purpose, the system had a side benefit that we had partially anticipated. The cameras were all pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ), and we had installed the monitors and the ability to control the cameras in our communications center. The freeway exit was located near busy city locations, so the dispatchers and officers began to use the cameras as a response tool for bar fights, suspicious subjects and vehicles, motor vehicle crashes, as well as any other type of in-progress call located near the cameras.

After a time, officers started to ask dispatchers what they could see prior to on-scene arrival, and pretty soon the narcs arranged to do dope buys within camera range. With this success, we began putting cameras in other loca­tions that made sense based on calls for service. And as we did this, the learning curve continued. 

Right Design & Install
Another factor that created difficulties was our design specifications—or more accurately the lack of them. We had already been burned by one vendor, and although we are a decent-size city with resources, we didn’t have anyone in-house with the expertise to build a CCTV system. So we had to figure it out as we went along. In some cases, we pulled cat 5 and co-ax cables ourselves. We also wrote the bid specs to have outside contractors install infrastructure.

Multiple issues can arise later if the design isn’t well thought out. One example concerns the long-term maintenance of your system and associated costs. Ever heard of SC, FC or ST fiber connectors? Well, me neither. So when asked what kind of connections I wanted, I really didn’t care as long as they worked. This choice created a problem with standardization later on. We didn’t create a design standard early on and, later, had to order specialized adapters that were more expensive and took more time to get.

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Robert KeyesRobert Keyes retired from the Clovis Police Department at the rank of captain with nearly 34 years of law enforcement experience. He has served as interim chief of police and also interim director of information services for the city of Clovis. Keyes has also made several presentations on behalf of the IACP and the Department of Homeland Security on the topic of CCTV and wireless. He holds a bachelor’s degree from California State University, Fresno. Contact him at


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