Cantrell at Real-Time Crime Center

Mayor LaToya Cantrell and officials at the Real-Time Crime Center Dec. 3, 2018.

The city’s nucleus for monitoring 24-hour streams of city-owned surveillance cameras is planning to add dozens of cameras installed outside homes and businesses to its network.

The New Orleans Police & Justice Foundation SafeCam NOLA program has 6,000 cameras in its index, made up of privately owned cameras that are registered with the program to be accessed by law enforcement.

SafeCam Platinum — which began its soft launch in October — integrates cameras installed outside homes and businesses into the center’s network, creating a “21st century neighborhood watch,” foundation director Melanie Talia said at a press conference recognizing the first year of the city's Real-Time Crime Center.

About 20 Platinum program cameras have been added to the network, and another 50 were added within the National World War II Museum footprint, according to Collin Arnold, director of the city’s Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness, which oversees the center. Other participating groups include the Downtown Development District, Liberty Bank and the Tall Timbers Owners Association on the West Bank.

Connecting SafeCam NOLA’s 6,000 cameras into the center’s live-stream network would have to be determined on a case-by-case basis, Arnold said. Law enforcement would only rely on the cloud-based footage from those cameras when there’s an incident in that area, he said.

In its first quarter report from earlier this year, Arnold’s office said it would be too costly to install and monitor more city-owned cameras, encouraging the city to “[leverage] existing private sector cameras” to connect to the center’s stream. “The ‘canopy’ of cameras integrated into the Real-Time Crime Center is virtually unlimited as we utilize private sector cameras to supplement the city-owned cameras,” the report said.

Following the center's opening in November 2017, the city has grown its camera network to 340 cameras, creating an umbrella of surveillance coverage throughout New Orleans. That footage is shared by the New Orleans Police Department and state and federal law enforcement. The center on Rampart Street opened as part of a sweeping, $40 million anti-crime plan from former Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration.

City officials floated a plan that would require businesses that sell alcohol to install cameras outside their doors and link that footage to the center, a dramatic expansion of the real-time network to cover nearly every block with a bar, restaurant or grocery store. That proposal was withdrawn.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell and city officials also worked with neighborhood organizations like the Gentilly Development District, which added eight cameras, and newly launched city programs, like CleanUp NOLA, which is adding cameras to illegal dumping hotspots, throughout 2018.

Cantrell’s 2019 budget also includes funding for 10 more center-connected cameras in each New Orleans City Council district as well as 71 along the Lafitte Greenway.

The center relies on a “complaint-based system,” linking 911 dispatch calls for service to cameras when those calls are placed.

Though November 2018, the center processed 2,300 calls for service; 70 percent of those calls developed “relevant footage,” Arnold said. So-called “on view” crimes caught on cameras during screen monitoring account for roughly one of every 10 cases, Arnold said.

NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison says the center is playing a “vital role” in the department’s investigations, estimating access to the cameras has saved “2,000 man hours,” meaning officers are “getting to scenes faster and making better, informed decisions in real time during an emergency.” The department is able to “build better cases” and clear cases “sometimes minutes after they occur,” Harrison said.

Harrison says “instant access to video” combined with detective work has helped “clear all but one of 10 nonfatal shootings” in the 8th District, which covers the French Quarter, Marigny and Central Business District.

“This is a holistic approach to improving the overall quality of life in the city of New Orleans,” Cantrell said. “And a key player, yes, is this Real-Time Crime Center. … We will grow. We have only scratched the surface.”