Automated police surveillance of central Buckhead will get a big increase this year, with an installation of 20 cameras and 30 license-plate readers.
The $705,000 surveillance package is being paid for by the Buckhead Community Improvement District, whose board approved the expenditure Jan. 25. The devices will be aimed at public areas throughout the BCID, the self-taxing business district around Peachtree and Lenox roads.
Crime “is the public’s number one concern,” said City Councilmember Howard Shook, a BCID board member. “I’m thrilled to see this getting closer to the finish line.”
The cameras will plug into Operation Shield, the vast network of public and private cameras around the city that are coordinated and monitored by the Atlanta Police Department with support from the Atlanta Police Foundation. Many cameras are already installed in other parts of Buckhead, often with funding help from Shook and City Councilmember Yolanda Adrean. The BCID already has some cameras as well. Executive Director Jim Durrett could not immediately provide a number, but news reports show at least 17 cameras were installed in 2012, also with BCID funding.
The security cameras can be moved and zoomed in by police, and according to a purchase order form, they also have “two-way audio,” meaning that they at least have the capability to pick up sounds and broadcast voices. License-plate readers are specialized cameras that automatically read the license plates of passing vehicles, store the information and compare it to a database of people wanted for crimes or warrants.
The Atlanta Police Foundation’s board chair is Robin Loudermilk, who is also a BCID board member. He called the expanding surveillance system a “game-changer” and said it has reduced car break-ins in his neighborhood.
The BCID’s new purchase and comments about it show some changes to that surveillance game. While regular video cameras have long been promoted as crime prevention tools, some BCID board members talked about the license-plate readers being more useful because they automatically catch those already accused of crimes.
Robin Suggs of Simon Property Group, which operates the Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza malls, said plate-readers around her properties are more important than cameras.
“You will see there are a lot of stolen cars driving around,” she said, adding that with the expanded system property owners and residents can “expect to see a lot more blue lights.”
Shook said that Police Maj. Barry Shaw, the new commander of Buckhead’s Zone 2, is making plate-readers a primary crime-prevention tool rather than the previous practice of tightly enforcing minor traffic laws to scare off roving criminals. Shaw is scheduled to attend the BCID’s March 22 board meeting.
The new cameras and plate-readers come with a three-year maintenance package, Durrett said, but he did not have details on their expected lifespan. There is no specific date for installing the cameras, but Durrett said it will happen “certainly this year.”