Austin police want access to your private security cameras

Camera at Royal Blue Grocery in downtown Austin. (KXAN Photo/Kylie McGivern)
Camera at Royal Blue Grocery in downtown Austin. (KXAN Photo/Kylie McGivern)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In an era where homeowners and businesses can easily get their hands on a fully-functioning surveillance system, law enforcement agencies are trying to figure out a way to tap into the video feeds when a safety need arises.

For the Austin Police Department, the idea of asking businesses to give them access to surveillance cameras was proposed in early 2015. A pilot program exploring the option was suspended to give the vendor time to work out technical glitches. Now, APD says it’s ready to go.

Tuesday morning, the Downtown Austin Alliance hosted a safety forum and invited property managers, hotel directors, business and private security managers to hear APD explain how the program will work.

Co-Owner of Royal Blue Grocery Craig Staley told KXAN, “For us, here on Sixth and Congress, it makes a lot of sense. There’s just a lot happening here and all the time.”

APD’s second run at a pilot program this spring, to connect private surveillance cameras to its network, zeroed in on Royal Blue Grocery.

“I think it’s vitally important that businesses get involved in it. Whether it’s just registering cameras or actually having them connected live into APD. For us, here on Congress Avenue on Sixth, there’s one camera on the HALO system which is over here on Sixth Street. And if something was to happen right out here, they’ll get in touch and go hey, we’ll need some video. So it’s just one of the ways we can help them do their jobs better,” Staley said.

APD Commander Jennifer Stephenson told KXAN, “Due to the officer shortage, we can’t be everywhere,” but that a larger network of cameras will fill some of those gaps.

The first goal is just to get as many businesses to register with APD as possible so in the event of an emergency, police know where they can go to request to look at surveillance footage. Another option would allow APD to pull up a live feed from private surveillance cameras as an incident is happening. APD says the footage would not be recorded and it would only tap into the system in response to a call for service.

“They would only be tapping in if they hear of an event or something that is going on and would be looking at it as a live feed, it’s not recorded,” Stephenson said — something that would be laid out in a Memorandum of Understanding.

A site survey will be involved to set up live feed systems, which will come at a cost that varies business to business.

“The numbers that they threw out to us initially were pretty high. They were about double what we pay to put our system in with our cameras and everything,” Staley said. “I think there will be a lot of business owners that will choose not to take that step. But for us here on Congress Avenue, it’s worth it.”

During the forum, Austin police said its 41 HALO (High Activity Location Observation) cameras have been used to initiate and assist in more than 820 calls for service. Private cameras would enhance their network of visibility, especially downtown.

APD modeled its program after the one in Washington, D.C., which allows businesses or individuals to register their camera with the department, granting officers the ability to monitor the camera from a centralized location. The program in D.C. added access to nearly 1,000 new cameras in a matter of months.

We’ve requested a cost breakdown to get a clearer idea of how much it’ll set businesses back to connect to APD’s system.The Downtown Austin Alliance could only tell us it was under $5,000.

To register your camera(s), visit this link. The Downtown Austin Alliance says the link is currently locked, but Hitachi Vantara representatives are working to unlock it ASAP.

Camera at Royal Blue Grocery in downtown Austin. (KXAN Photo/Kylie McGivern)
Camera at Royal Blue Grocery in downtown Austin that APD has used for its pilot program. (KXAN Photo/Kylie McGivern)

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