Local police are the biggest collectors of surveillance data; much more, on a volume basis, than even the National Security Agency. This is an unsung—and little-appreciated—reality. How do they do it? Let’s take the example of the New York Police Department—the largest in the nation—which uses technology to get all of its data together, ensuring effective policing in the process.
The New York Police Department
New York’s Lower Manhattan Security Coordination Center is operated by the New York Police Department. It monitors more than 6,500 security cameras south of Canal Street, which is the northern boundary of the area that broadly encompasses Wall Street and the New York City Hall complex.
Some of these cameras are fixed. Others are mobile. In many cities, police cameras are not connected to a central feed. But New York’s cameras are networked so that they are viewable, in real time, by officers in the Lower Manhattan Security Coordination Center. In other words, they’re centrally monitored, watched, analyzed and responded to.
Learn more about public and private uses of drones.
NYPD’s Complete Monitoring
The project uses feeds from private and public security cameras so that the information is collected not only from the city cameras but also from department stores and office building CCTVs. And all of it is monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The New York Police Department also makes use of license plate readers, which capture more than 2 million license plates in the area every day.
Other sensors available to the police measure radiation, chemical releases, biological contaminants, and explosives—and all of that data also gets fed into the central monitoring system. Apart from this, New York police also have a variety of electronic databases at their disposal. These include arrest records, complaints like when you call for a domestic violence dispute, but no arrest is made, 911 calls, parking summons, and vehicular moving violations.
This is a transcript from the video series The Surveillance State: Big Data, Freedom, and You. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
The Lower Manhattan Security Coordination Center aggregates digital copies of all of this information into a single database. More than 1.5 billion data points from records and sensors have been collected. And new 911 calls are added every three seconds. New complaint records three times a day. This $150 million initiative even includes automatic roadblocks that can be used to stop traffic in an emergency.
So what does the system actually do? It processes 1.5 billion records and issues alerts as they are triggered. And when the system issues these alerts, the police react.
Let’s take an example. The radiation sensors sound an alarm whenever they identify a dangerous isotope, no matter what the amount. For license plate readers, the alarm is triggered by a match to a watch list of license plates that have been stolen or used in a crime, or for which there is some other look out.
Certain 911 calls such as a suspicious package report, or gunfire near a federal building trigger alarms as well. With these data sources and alerts, the police track cars and people moving through the 1.7 square miles of lower Manhattan.
Face-recognition and Object-detection Technology
The NYPD also employs face-recognition and object-detection technology. The system can, for example, predict that a particular car will typically leave Manhattan outbound through the Holland Tunnel on Tuesdays at 9 pm.
Or, that another car will routinely enter Manhattan through the Brooklyn Bridge, and then leave 20 minutes later, via the Holland Tunnel to New Jersey. The system can also identify unattended packages that have been left behind, and been motionless for a fixed period of time.
Learn more about gathering and analyzing intelligence.
Reviewing the Alerts and Taking Action
Police personnel individually review such alerts, and only if an analyst confirms that there is a reason for concern are police assets dispatched to deal with the issue. In other words, whatever the source of the alert, the NYPD first assesses the information, and then decides whether or not to act, and if they act, then in what way.
New York is not insensitive to the privacy concerns about this program. It has data-storage rules that require deletion of some data after a fixed period of time, typically 30 days. The city also has an audit function to track the use of the system, so that it is applied only to legitimate public-safety issues.
Compared to what came before, this system represents a significant upgrade in analytical capacity—and capability—for the NYPD. Reflecting the new technology and tenor of our times, it very likely is also the wave of the future.
Common Questions about New York Police Department
New York’s cameras are networked so that they are viewable, in real time, by officers in the Lower Manhattan Security Coordination Center. In other words, they’re centrally monitored, watched, analyzed and responded to.
For the license plate readers, the alarm is triggered by a match to a watch list of license plates that have been stolen or used in a crime, or for which there is some other lookout.
Whatever maybe the source of the alert, the NYPD first assesses the information, and then decides whether or not to act, and it they act, in what way.