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When the Atlanta Police Foundation launched Operation Shield in 2007, it gave the Atlanta Police Department (APD) greater awareness of criminal activity throughout the city. The project pulled video streams from city and privately owned cameras into a single Video Integration Center (VIC) where it could be viewed by officers on a large 18-screen video wall.
Starting with 17 AXIS Q60 PTZ series cameras installed downtown, the project quickly grew as other municipal departments such as MARTA (Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority), Public Works, Watershed Management, Aviation, Parks and Recreation and the Atlanta Public School System integrated their cameras into the network.
APD also reached out to local businesses, shopping centers, multi-dwelling properties and homeowners and asked them to participate in the program. While some chose to integrate their cameras into the police network, others registered their cameras to provide footage on demand.
“Creating this network of city-owned Axis cameras and privately owned security cameras from local businesses and homeowners has allowed Atlanta to affordably saturate surveillance coverage in our business district and neighborhoods. Having access to these additional resources helps our police department expedite criminal investigations and apprehend offenders more quickly,” said Greg McNiff, vice president of the Atlanta Police Foundations.
“When an organization or individual signs up, their cameras appear as icons on our geomap software in VIC,” explains Marshall Freeman, deputy director of the Atlanta Police Department. “When an incident occurs, investigating officers can see who has cameras in the area. If necessary, the system can automatically send a message to registered owners with a link they can use to drag and drop requested footage. It’s much more efficient than going door-to-door to find that information.”
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The public-private camera solution worked well for more than a decade. Then in 2018, the city of Atlanta was hit by a cyber attack, and the police department’s records system was one of five government systems infected with ransomware. “When the breach happened, we had to cut off everything that was flowing into our city network and video integration center,” says Freeman. “The incident made us rethink how we use our technology.”
The department moved its solution to Fusus, a real-time crime center platform in the cloud and promoted the renewed initiative as Connect Atlanta.
The new ecosystem extracts and unifies video from city and private cameras using intelligent search and alert parameters to improve situational awareness and police investigative capabilities. In addition to a highly secure digital evidence vault, the platform incorporates rules-based sharing privileges to automate access to live video in an emergency, such as during an active shooter alert at a school or an armed robbery in progress at a store.
“We were able to scale up the deployment of Axis cameras on the platform by leveraging their ability to perform well over a cellular network,” says Chris Lindenau, CEO of Fusus. “Due to Axis Zipstream technology, they can deliver stunning resolution at a low bit rate, resulting in lower overall network impact. Combined with Fusus’ AI capabilities, this is a powerful city-wide solution.”
Lindenau also mentioned the great interoperability between Axis and Fusu’s technology. “Axis has built a lot of intuitive tools into their cameras that are easy to integrate into our platform,” shares Lindenau. “One that’s especially important in a city-wide rollout like Atlanta is frame box zooming, which lets you zoom in for a detailed view with a single mouse click.”
“The advantage of Fusus is that we can see all the cameras from a single window,” says Freeman. “When I open my dashboard, it doesn’t matter if I’m pulling up one of the city’s Axis cameras or someone’s home security camera at their front door. What matters is having access to any camera in the area that may have a good angle on the incident and can help us scour the streets for suspects.”
The adoption of the new platform has helped the Atlanta PD evolve its VIC into a real-time criminal network. Officers have the application on their computers, in their patrol cars and on their cell phones and laptops, so they can easily access the live streams and archived footage they need, whether they’re in the field, on the VIC or logging in from home.
C-onetchIng perp in real time
Since crime tends to increase after dark, APD decided to upgrade its cameras to AXIS Q61 network cameras with infrared capability. The larger image sensor delivers better clarity in low light and can even capture color in a scene – a detail that helps officers in their searches for suspects and vehicles.
“We chose multi-sensor AXIS Q61 Series network cameras because they allow us to see in four different directions at once. We pair them with AXIS Q61 PTZ network cameras so we can quickly zoom in on the action without losing sight of what’s happening in the general area, like a suspect fleeing the scene,” explains Freeman.
Today, Connect Atlanta is one of the largest public-private surveillance networks in the country. More than 15,000 community-owned cameras are integrated into Fusus, along with 1,800 Axis cameras owned by APD. An additional 16,500 business and homeowner cameras are currently registered in the program. And that number continues to grow.
“People join the program because they realize that when they share their cameras with APD, we become aware of incidents more quickly and can respond more quickly,” says McNiff.
“Connect Atlanta has become the city’s greatest asset,” Freeman says. “It’s something we rely on every day to help us fight crime and protect the people and businesses in our community.”
For example, Axis cameras were able to capture vandals destroying the colorful Rainbow Crosswalks in Midtown. Police relied on the same cameras to help them curb a street racing epidemic that overtook the city during COVID-19. Even with hundreds of people at the intersection, police were able to use Fusus to quickly sift through the video, identify the culprits, and make arrests.
Sometimes it’s video from privately owned cameras that gives APD the big edge. For example, key footage from a home surveillance camera attached to Fusu helped investigators identify and apprehend a drive-by shooter in less than 48 hours. In another example, which occurred a few weeks after an apartment complex integrated their cameras into the system, they captured video of a burglar breaking into the commercial area of the property. Police were able to easily identify him from the ankle monitor he was wearing. A few days later, the same cameras caught a kidnapping in progress in one of the streets.
One of the more poignant examples of utilizing all of Connect Atlanta’s resources was that it allowed officers to quickly locate a dementia patient who had walked away and return them safely to their caretaker.
“With the great footage we get from the city’s Axis cameras and all the video evidence we’ve collected from community-contributed cameras through Fusus, we’ve been able to jump on emergency situations faster. Since implementing Connect Atlanta, we’ve also seen a significant drop in crime and an increase in conviction rates,” says McNiff.