The APD aims to have eyes everywhere

In 2019, Atlanta was in the top 10 most-surveilled cities globally. Photo by Nick Loggie on Unsplash

Atlanta Police Department asks citizens, businesses to join security camera network

Atlanta is struggling with an over 50% spike in crimes since the beginning of the pandemic, due to the pandemic’s strain on at-risk populations. Atlanta Police Department has started a program called Connect Atlanta. This program will allow concerned residents and businesses to connect their security feed directly to the police department. 

This security system isn’t new.  Atlanta’s camera network started in 2010, and by 2019, Atlanta was in the top 10 most-surveilled cities globally, only one of two that are not in China. The difference now is the way they are using the cameras. 

The new system will change the feed from video integration to real-time streaming. It will allow any high-tech or primary home security camera to connect its feed directly to APD’s network. Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant calls it a game-changer.

The scope of surveillance:

Some private citizens say they are concerned with what this added access to personal cameras will mean for their privacy. When a citizen signs up for the program, individual and corporate clients decide how much access to give authorities. 

They can provide no access, full access, or some variant in the middle. Atlanta-based attorney Jason Duncan said he wants to know how private citizens will know when the government uses their property.

“They’re the customer. They own the cameras.” Garrett Langley, one of the Georgia Tech graduates who helped develop and manufacture many of the privately-owned devices available to officers In Atlanta, said in an interview he gave AJC in 2019. 

“An officer couldn’t just pull up the camera and say, ‘Oh, wonder what’s happening in that neighborhood?”

As an attorney and a concerned citizen who sees how officers have repeatedly overreached beyond the scope of what is allowed of them, Duncan said he’s not convinced.

“If it’s just an open book for the Atlanta PD to come in and use it whenever they see fit,” he said, “the snowball effect of where this is naturally going to go is that what happens if they just start getting broad descriptions of people and then just start using it to spy on anyone that they think might fit that description? Isn’t that a stretch too far? The [founding fathers wrote the] fourth amendment to protect from illegal searches and seizures, and this would qualify as an illegal search.”

One GSU student said it sounds too “Big Brother” meets “Black Mirror.”

Potential for real-time results:

With the rise in violent crimes in Atlanta, some still believe the added security outweigh the possible removal of some privacy.

“It does give me a sense of security,” says local elementary school music teacher Eliel Sullivan. “I guess I feel better knowing that there are more eyes around me. It’s also comforting knowing someone’s thinking of safety in innovative ways.”

APD said the new surveillance technology has already helped lead to an arrest in the killing of Grayson Fleming. The 6-month-old baby was shot during a shootout outside a store in Northwest Atlanta Monday morning. Bryant said this program would save officers precious time when it comes to gathering evidence and ultimately making arrests.   

“This system will allow our investigators to get that information at the forefront,” said Chief Bryant in a press conference this week. 

“So, it’s telling our investigators, there are videos in this area, and these are the homes you need to go and check that are willing to share that information.”

APD has had a video monitoring system in place for upwards of 10 years now, and we have still seen a significant rise in crime each year. 

The questions now are, would crime be worse without the camera system, and if they are helping, will the live-stream surveillance help APD enough to justify the added encroachment on Atlanta citizens’ fundamental rights.