LANCASTER — The City wants to deploy an 80,000 camera surveillance system for the primary purpose of gathering data analytics to better track pedestrian and traffic data.
The goal is to help the City better alleviate traffic congestion and increase the overall function of the City. The data could also be used for more efficient law enforcement, according to a proposed policy.
“Those 80,000 cameras looking at public space, we need to identify policies around these services and understand how we’re going to utilize this,” City Manager Jason Caudle said Wednesday morning during a presentation before the Lancaster Criminal Justice Commission.
The proposed system still needs to be considered by the City Council.
The cameras are part of a four-sided node, or box, that would go in the photocell socket on top of each streetlight in the City. The unit turns the light on and off each day. It also collects data for how much power was used on the street.
The node technology was developed by anyCOMM Holdings Corp., a Sacramento-based technology firm led by CEO and founder Rob Praske.
“The purpose of our solution, of course, is to make money,” Praske said. “We do that by creating a brand new wireless hot spot network up on the streetlights. And so this is a new Wi-Fi solution that will be available in the City.”
Each node comes with four ultra high-definition cameras that can see out about 150 feet. That’s about the space between each streetlight. What one streetlight camera can’t see, the next one can, and so on.
Each camera can read the two-inch tall letters and numbers on a vehicle license plate at approximately 150 feet away.
“So, it’s a pretty powerful thing that we have here now — is a box that read two-inch letters. It can also do a whole bunch of other things,” Praske said.
The nodes have computers inside that can analyze what the cameras see. It can count people and vehicles at an intersection. It can tell what model of vehicles are there. Each device has a storage card that records on a loop 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The data lasts for 28 days before it is erased.
Each camera also has a microphone that is listening for discrete sounds. The system can hear a gunshot and identify the make and model of the gun, as well as the direction and the velocity of the projectile that came out of it.
“We can triangulate exactly where it came from the split second it came from there,” Praske said.
That information could, if the policy is in place, be relayed to a 911 dispatch center for possible follow up.
The cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles and Yuma, Arizona, have pilot programs using anyCOMM’s technology. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power uses anyCOMM’s nodes to look for fires and smell for smoke.
Commissioner Tim Fuller asked about the security of the technology. Fuller said as a business owner he is all for it. As a private citizen, he is concerned about the security of the data collected by the cameras and the Wi-Fi each device has, as well as the device itself, and whether that can be stolen.
“How is it secured?” Fuller asked.
The device uses military-grade encryption. The Wi-Fi device within each box is separate from the computers that run the technology. Individuals who use the device’s Wi-Fi would do so separately from how the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department would access it.
Stealing the device is also unlikely. Praske said, adding they haven’t had any devices stolen yet.
“We know before you’re coming, so we’ve seen you on the street,” Praske said.
If a device should become separated from the streetlight, it would be nonfunctional.
There is no cost to the City under the proposed system. In fact, the City could make money by leasing the top of the streetlights to Praske. Praske would make his money through the new Wi-Fi network he would deploy.
anyCOMM does not sell Internet service directly to individuals, it passes it through to other providers such as Spectrum.
“We’re going to split that back with the City, so if we make a dollar, part of that dollar goes back to the City,” Praske said.
Praske added his investors are willing to spend between $18 million and $19 million to install the systems on streetlights throughout the City.
“However, Lancaster is going to have the slickest, fastest, wireless Wi-Fi network,” Praske said. “Why wouldn’t you want to live here?”
Caudle said they are still in negotiations with anyCOMM, and do not have a proposed contract yet.
City officials will be able to use the proposed system to know when a streetlight isn’t working, or if it should be knocked down. Other benefits include faster emergency response, traffic congestion mitigation, and better communication ability for schools.
“It is just a superior opportunity for the City of Lancaster,” Caudle said.
City Attorney Allison Burns said the cameras will be placed in the public sphere pointing at locations in the public domain where there is no expectation of privacy. The City will have approval rights for each camera location. The proposed policy would record video only, so the City will not be listening to people’s conversations.
“Though we may not be recording sound, we can still capture, for example, gunshot,” Burns said.
The data transmitted to the City will be traffic counts and pedestrian counts. The City could request, in writing, other data related to criminal activity,
“We want to avoid situations where people are using these images for purposes other than the legitimate purposes of law enforcement, emergency response, disaster response, things like that,” Burns said.
Commissioner Drew Mercy asked Burns how the City will protect the public’s privacy.
Burns said one of the reasons the proposed policy is set up so that the City would only get images or a recording is if it requests them, is to avoid making those recordings subject to a Public Records Act request.
“We’re concerned about folks with nefarious purposes wanting to get a hold of the video,” Burns said.
Fuller said he likes the idea of limiting the availability of the data initially. But he expressed concern about the 28-day window.
The proposed contract is expected to go before the City Council in January.
After hearing the presentations, Commission Chairman Jeff Little said he would like to schedule an evening town hall meeting to gain public feedback on the proposed system.
Vice Mayor Marvin Crist said the City Council wants it done as soon as possible.
“We want you to tear it apart. We want you to hear from the public; we want to get the public input. We want you to ask the hard questions,” Crist said. “We want you to tear it all part and then put it back together in something the citizens of Lancaster can live with.”