ALPHARETTA, Ga. — Alpharetta Public Safety is set to add another tool to its crime detection menu.
The department will launch a new video monitoring system that can tie into cameras operating in private businesses and organizations. The software, designed by Peachtree Corners-based Fusus, allows police to interface with whatever video monitoring system a company uses. Images from the company are then fed live to police. The city will pay $25,000 annually for the service.
Alpharetta Public Safety Director John Robison said the city already has a number of cameras it uses to monitor traffic and school zones. Fusus allows the business community the option of sharing their live or recorded information with police and fire.
“They choose whether they want to be a part of this or not,” Robison said.
He said one private school has already signed up for the equipment to tie in with the city’s network. Businesses can purchase their own equipment for approximately $600 that will link to the system.
Robison said the city is not monitoring cameras 24 hours a day, but if dispatch receives an emergency call about an incident at a participating business, the company or school can activate the feed to allow police to monitor whatever cameras are linked. The business or school, he said, can choose which cameras it wants to share.
In the case of an active shooter, the system might allow police to see where the person is holed up or where innocent civilians have taken refuge, Robison said.
The chief said he is working with the city attorney and staff to draft a policy on how the system is operated. He said Fusus will be consulted in the application, but it will not set the policy.
“We will only use it [in cases of] a crime in progress or potentially after a crime has taken place,” Robison said. “But, we will not be viewing or monitoring people all the time.”
He added that the system may be used at large events, like Taste of Alpharetta, where thousands of people fill the streets, and traffic and pedestrian safety can overwhelm standard police resources.
The issue has raised some concerns with City Councilman Ben Burnett, who said he has reservations about government monitoring the actions of private citizens. He said he doesn’t think the city has given residents enough of a heads-up about the system, and because its costs are low, the City Council was not required to vote on the purchase.
I don’t object to a business giving the city access or opting in,” Burnett said. “I do object to the public right of way being used to surveil tens of thousands of people who aren’t doing anything illegal or immoral.”
Nevertheless, City Councilman John Hipes, who serves as liaison to Public Safety, said the system was introduced at the council retreat in January — a meeting that was not live streamed to residents — and was part of discussions at two public City Council meetings in February as part of mid-year budget amendments. Those amendments passed the council on a vote of 6-1 with Burnett casting the lone dissent.
Hipes said he thinks the system will increase the quality of life for residents by aiding public safety.
“It makes the city safer, it makes the police safer,” Hipes said. “It helps make our police officers more efficient.”
Mayor Jim Gilvin said he also supports the plan, because it provides the city with a new technology that can improve safety of residents. He said he has no concerns about privacy.
“It’s a private property owner,” Gilvin said. “They want access to these systems, and we’re simply making it available, so that if they need it, they can call us and activate it.”