Working toward a common goal: Marrying public/private partnerships with technology to reduce crime

How law enforcement integration of surveillance video from private businesses into command centers helps to reduce crime


A good friend of mine recently returned from an out-of-state visit to a large police agency in the south-eastern United States. The agency had experienced a significant increase in violent crimes like armed robbery, drive-by shootings and random public assaults. Even though the agency had an active Real Time Crime Center (RTCC), strong community partnerships and a mobile command center, it struggled to prevent and reduce crime.

The suspects would commit a crime then flee into a labyrinth of hotels, motels and commercial properties. The RTCC and mobile command did a fantastic job gathering real-time information from police-owned security cameras. However, once the suspect fled onto any private property, they would quickly vanish out of sight of the cameras.

The hotels, motels and commercial property owners quickly became irritated with the police department's inability to catch these violent criminals. They wanted the vandalism, robbery, assaults, thefts and transient issues to stop, and they were willing to do anything to make that happen.

Many private businesses are interested in marrying public/private partnerships with technology.
Many private businesses are interested in marrying public/private partnerships with technology. (Getty Images)

This police agency, like many others across the nation, realized it could not prevent and reduce crime without a strong public/private relationship. Private businesses share the same mission as law enforcement: to improve community safety. And having an armed robbery suspect flee to their property is not only counterintuitive to their mission but also increases civil liability.

Most of the property owners in the area were willing to help the officers by giving them surveillance footage whenever they wanted. But the footage would often take hours or even days to send to the police. The businesses were also willing to assist in prosecution but rarely showed up to court.

The agency decided to use a three-tier technique to demolish crime and improve public/private partnerships. England, Netherlands and Australia use this same technique and have had a lot of success in reducing crime and sustaining convictions. It is a simple process to start and simple to maintain. More importantly, this technique benefits both private businesses and citizens.

Tier 1: Strict trespassing rules  

The easiest way to build strong public/private relationships is by responding to and enforcing rules that directly affect the entire community, not just the police agency.

Trespassing, public drug crimes and vandalism are three examples. Police agencies can work directly with private businesses to set up a trespassing enforcement program to reduce these crimes.

The police agency will give the private business a simple document that:

  • Allows officers to contact anyone on their property after hours;
  • Allows officers to arrest suspects without having to find a victim for prosecution (the document states they will assist in prosecution);
  • Encourages businesses to install "No Trespassing" signs;
  • Encourages businesses to follow-through the court process.

Trespassing enforcement programs are a simple but powerful tool to help prevent crime.

Tier 2: Surveillance technology  

HD camera technology has drastically improved over the past five years because of a handful of home security companies pushing for advanced development. Private businesses can choose between high-quality HD or 4K video surveillance cameras, night vision and even infrared. Many of these camera systems come audio-ready providing another layer of real-time intel.

Modern security cameras can either be hardwired into the businesses' previously installed security system or installed through a series of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi networks. Wireless and internet-connected camera systems also support another type of network: the public/private partnership network.

Public/private partnerships are the key to success. Private companies who are already participating in the trespass enforcement program can give police agencies remote access to their surveillance systems. Police, then, can access these systems directly in the following ways:

Through their agency’s RTCC

Real-time crime centers were created for the sole purpose of gathering real-time crime data. The best real-time data is direct video. While the RTCC is viewing live footage, the agency can gather more intel to relay to the officers out in the street like vehicle descriptions, registered owners' information, or potential suspect addresses.

Through their mobile command unit

Mobile command options have also improved over the past five years, especially with wireless high-speed internet technology and cellular and radio networks. Mobile command units can be quickly deployed for specialized projects, major crime scenes, or community events.

Through patrol car computer-mounted systems or laptop systems

Private businesses can stream live security cameras video directly to an officer's patrol car. When officers are dispatched to that area, the first two officers should go to the scene. The third officer will find a nearby parking lot or nearby safe area to remote-in to the camera surveillance system. The officer then would relay directly what they were seeing, give instructions on where to send units and actively track the movement of the suspect.

Tier 3: Simple signage  

In addition to "No Trespassing" signs, the private business will post signs stating, "This property is under 24-hour monitoring and will be actively monitored by [insert agency name]." The business will post each sign near the building entrance or the entrance to the parking. Many of the signs are illuminated using a small blue LED bulb, which naturally draws a person's attention toward it. The blue light is also the universal color for the police and shows police support. Many of the hotels and motels went one step further and handed out a simple flyer telling patrons that the police agency has 24/7 remote access to their security system.

The agency's pilot program seems promising. Many other private businesses in that area have already shown interest in marrying public/private partnerships with technology. England, Netherlands and Australia reported "large reductions in target crimes," which is why public/private partnership programs have now stretched to several countries in Europe, South Africa and now the United States. Advancement in video surveillance hardware and integrated software have made public/private surveillance partnership more available and more affordable.

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