Columbia City Council heard a presentation from a software company on technology that would allow police departments to access a network of security cameras in real-time during a Monday night work session.
The system, created by software company Fusus, will give city governments and private businesses the option to authorize the Columbia Police Department to access their surveillance cameras, according to a presentation Monday. Police will then be able to view and review footage from these cameras in real time to help respond to and investigate crimes.
The Fusus system, proposed in the presentation as the Columbia Connect program, will speed up the process of acquiring camera footage. Businesses will be able to opt-in to the system and can selectively allow or restrict police access to every camera they own. Once opted in, police can access cameras on the network without the owner’s permission.
The plan will also create a Community Camera Registry, a map of all security cameras in Colombia that only Colombian police can access, and businesses must also opt-in. According to reports, this includes the location of cameras that are not on the network, but police will not be able to view their footage.
With currently available technology, officials must obtain permission from individual businesses or cities if they want to access camera footage.
Columbia Police Chief Geoff Jones said having to contact individual businesses to see their footage would lead to an investigation and create room for mistakes that Fusus has eliminated.
“What would have taken us four days or a week now takes minutes or hours,” Jones said. “It’s sending lots of emails instead of knocking on doors.”
Implementing the program will not add additional cameras or require those who choose to replace existing cameras, Jones said. Instead, implementing the program simply requires installing the technology using a device that plugs into an enterprise’s existing camera system.
Moderator Carlo Capano said businesses can choose whether police can access the opt-in system’s cameras at any time, or whether police only have access when the owner uses the Fusus alert feature.
Fusus Alerts is an app where users can send silent alerts to police, mark their location on a map and activate the five closest webcams, said Jack Howard, another Fusus host. Howard said Fusus Alerts is primarily for schools, but Jones has the option to allow business owners to use it as well.
Howard said Colombian police can send text alerts through Fusus to notify communities of events, and community members can use it to send tips to police. The system was also able to detect gunfire and activate the five closest cameras, he added.
Additionally, the cameras have artificial intelligence that police can use to search for specific objects in the footage, such as a black car or license plate. AI doesn’t have facial recognition software, and officers can’t use it to search for specific people or people of a certain race. Capano says Fusus can put AI into any surveillance camera.
The advantage of the program, Capano added, is that it brings all this information into one place for easier access and faster response, and it also deters crime.
“We were able to send a message to the community that you, the community, are working with that police department, you are leveraging the technology that already exists, you are creating a better environment for Colombian citizens,” Capano said.
Several local groups sent letters to the council in support of Fusus adoption.
Representatives for Columbia Public Schools and Columbia Mall said in their respective letters that they were interested in working with police and adding some or all of the surveillance cameras to the Fusus network.
Scott Wilson, chairman of the Columbia Downtown Leadership Council, said that despite his “significant concerns about surveillance in general,” he supports the adoption of Fusus because businesses can opt in.
In her letter of support, Nicky Davis, executive director of the Downtown Community Improvement District, said she wanted to “strongly emphasize public education on the system” so Columbia residents could understand how the software works.
Mayor Barbara Buffaloe asked the moderator how they would help spread the word about Fusus. Capano said Fusus will work with Colombian police and its public information officers to disseminate information about the system. Fusus will also help the police department contact businesses in Colombia to ask if they would like to join, he said.
District 1 Councilman Pat Fowler said she has “reservations” about Fusus until the city can engage stakeholders who oppose the plan and raise questions about how the plan might affect them Opinion. She noted that in 2010, while a majority of the city voted to install more security cameras, most First District residents opposed adding more.
“I still think the right thing for us to do is engage the wider stakeholder group and make sure we take these steps so we don’t break the trust that the community needs when we finally do something like this,” Fowler said.
Dan Viets, president of the Civil Liberties Association of Central Missouri, said in a letter to the council that his organization had “serious reservations and questions” about adopting Fusus. While businesses opt in to the program, employees and customers don’t necessarily have a say, he said.
He added that he had not seen an independent assessment of Fusus showing that the system reduced crime.
Buffaloe asked the speaker how Fusus evaluates the effectiveness of its system. Capano said Fusus is focused on delivering software, not collecting data. Success stories from cities that have implemented Fusus, such as Shreveport, Louisiana, have proven it works, he said. Capano said Shreveport has curbed gun crime after implementing the Fusus technology.
Buffalo said the police department must now make recommendations to the council to advance the contract, fund the program and gather stakeholders to engage in policy development.