The Sandy Springs City Council voiced support for the recent expansion of an Atlanta Police camera network into its city at an April 5 meeting. But the council also had policy questions about the surveillance cameras, whose existence was revealed by Reporter Newspapers before the Sandy Springs Police Department informed council members.
“This thing actually moved a lot faster than we thought,” Sandy Springs Police Chief Ken DeSimone told the council during a presentation that revealed new details of the “Operation Shield” cameras. The details included the locations of nine cameras installed in southern Sandy Springs.
The Atlanta Police Department runs a massive and ever-growing network of thousands of public and private surveillance cameras that feed into a downtown command center. APD now aims to expand the cameras beyond its borders, with Sandy Springs as a pilot program, according to DeSimone. Sandy Springs already has many cameras—52 for traffic management and 62 for park security—but they are not tied into APD’s system, DeSimone reported.
“[Atlanta Police] Chief [George] Turner approached me about collaborating more closely than we already do” and bringing in the cameras, DeSimone said.
Under the deal, APD and the nonprofit Atlanta Police Foundation paid for the Sandy Springs cameras and installation, and will cover maintenance for three years at an estimated cost of $40 to $50 per camera per year. Sandy Springs is covering fees for storing recorded video data, which is an estimated $4,300 to $5,900 a year depending on the storage method.
SSPD said yes to the cameras for various reasons, DeSimone said, including deterring crime and helping APD chase cross-border suspects. He also said the cameras could help with crime investigations, monitor traffic for Chastain Park events, and generally strengthen the city’s partnership with APD and the Police Foundation, which he said has local residents on its board.
DeSimone presented the new cameras as a 90-day pilot program to see “does it make sense to expand” and to integrate with other Sandy Springs systems.That would include allowing their feeds to be viewed in Sandy Springs Traffic Management Center, a room with a wall of video screens. Currently, only APD, not Sandy Springs Police, can view the camera feeds directly.
DeSimone said the pilot program also should answer such questions as, “What are the rules on expansion?…How far north do we go with it?”
Council member Andy Bauman’s district is home to the new cameras. He said that criminals “don’t recognize our municipal boundaries” and that resident response to cross-border cameras has been “very, very good.” He noted the system’s popularity in Buckhead, where Atlanta City Council members frequently fund its expansion.
But Bauman said he’s also heard “privacy concerns” from residents who want “assurances these aren’t cameras pointed into bedrooms.” DeSimone said the cameras only view public areas, and in an interview, he said they do not have facial recognition or other technology for singling out people. The chief also told the council that the sheer size of Atlanta’s system makes it impossible to watch all of the cameras all of the time.
“It’s sort of like trying to watch 32 basketball games at the start of the Final Four and trying to call a foul in one of them,” DeSimone said.
Council member Gabriel Sterling was concerned about video recordings—which will be stored 14 to 30 days—being treated as public records. The council already is grappling with such concerns with its police body camera pilot program.
“I don’t want WSB coming and being able to get firsthand [images] of horrifying things,” said Sterling, but city attorney Wendell Willard responded that the videos likely are public records.
Council member Ken Dishman, who represents northwestern Sandy Springs, said he thinks there is a “great opportunity” to expand the system north and possibly citywide.
Council member John Paulson said he is also a “big fan” of the idea, but also questioned the planning and strategy for it. “Have we thought through where this is going?” he asked.
“I’m sure we’ll continue to add to the system,” replied City Manager John McDonough. But he was unable to be specific, saying it likely would not be “dozens and dozens” of cameras, but adding, “I suspect it might be substantially more than the Public Works system we have now.”
“It’s a good question and we’ll have to give some thought to that,” McDonough said.
Council member Tibby DeJulio asked about the usefulness of camera systems and whether suspects have been captured by watching the existing traffic cameras. “Have we cracked any cases?” he asked. DeSimone cited one case of bank robbery suspects being recorded, but said the traffic cams are generally too low-resolution to be as useful as the new Atlanta cameras.
Mayor Rusty Paul said the Atlanta cameras and the body cameras are both an “evolving policy area” the city needs to think more about.
Atlanta police camera locations in Sandy Springs
While the Sandy Springs Police Department previously declined to say where the Atlanta Police cameras are located, DeSimone presented a map of them at the April 5 City Council meeting. The locations appear to be:
1100 block of Crest Valley Drive
Crest Valley Drive at Jett Road
Crest Valley Drive at Northside Drive
Kenbrook Way at Windship Place
Mount Paran Road at Powers Ferry Road
Powers Ferry Road at Carol Lane
Powers Ferry Road at Rebel Trail
Roswell Road at Forest Hills Drive
Roswell Road at Mount Paran Road