SOUTH BEND – A blue badge-shaped icon spins rapidly across a map of South Bend while a yellow warning sign pops up to display information about traffic accidents and robberies. The overlay also highlights a number of camera icons that can be clicked to get live video feeds from across the city.
The display looks like a scene from a Jason Bourne movie, but as of mid-December, all South Bend police officers now have access to the Fusus app as part of the department’s transformation into a “real-time crime hub.” program.
Earlier this year, Mayor James Mueller announced that the South Bend Police Department recently rolled out a new public safety system and is now using the technology integrated into the Fusus app in its daily operations. Crime analysts will use a room full of monitors as the “hub” for the real-time crime center, though the center won’t be operational until January, officials said.
“All these different things you have to do with your account, do your password for each one, and Fusus brings it all together in one place,” South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski said.
City officials said the new system will reduce violent crime and help police more effectively bring perpetrators to justice. The project will also introduce facial recognition technology, and some officials have expressed concern about the need for additional surveillance systems. The Board of Public Safety approved policy for the center and its technology last month, which means South Bend police can move forward.
What is a crime center?
While it’s often referred to as a real-time crime hub, the project incorporates several distinct elements, with a focus on a general upscaling of surveillance technology. The first is an effort to increase the number of cameras available to police forces. Starting this month, information from those cameras, along with various other technological systems, will feed into a central hub for officials and analysts to monitor in real time.
The city has contracted Fusus, which specializes in cloud-based policing technology, to run the system at a cost of about $125,000 a year.
The city has a number of existing surveillance cameras — such as traffic cameras that scan license plates for stolen vehicles or cars registered in people with warrants, as well as video feeds set up in city parks. Officers and analysts can now access the cameras through the Fusus system.
In addition to these existing cameras, the city has taken several initiatives to increase the number of cameras available to police, including:
- Install more city-owned cameras in public areas to record video, not audio, footage
- Launch of a pilot project where businesses will install cameras in their stores and allow police access to the information
- Create a website where homeowners can sign up for doorbell cameras and share footage with police
Police officials said some studies have shown that increasing the number of cameras would help police investigate incidents more effectively. Assistant Police Chief Tim Lancaster, for example, said detectives currently spend a lot of time going door-to-door checking for crime witnesses, but that time could be better spent elsewhere if residents were able to send video footage of the incident online. .
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The cameras will also help officers respond to active calls, police said, as crime analysts can view feeds and guide units on what to look for when they arrive.
“Let’s say a business is being robbed,” Lancaster said. “In Live Crime Center, they can pull up that video … and they’ll relay that to the officer to respond, ‘Hey, we’ve got a guy at the counter in blue jeans and a red sweatshirt. They’re holding a gun. The officer responds, Then they know if they’re responding to what they’re looking for.”
The city is currently approaching businesses about a pilot program modeled on Detroit’s Project Greenlight. Police officials said they were trying to get support from businesses in areas with violent crime and hoped to integrate the cameras into the city’s system in the new year.
“We’ve spoken to a number of business owners and they seem interested in the program,” Mueller said in November. “We expect a significant number of businesses to sign up.”
In addition to cameras, the Fusus hub brings together various systems—including ShotSpotter technology, proactive dispatch, GPS for watch and medical staff, and even traffic and weather patterns—into one interface.
Police departments will also adopt facial recognition technology as part of a new public safety system, though officials have been keen to stress that facial recognition will only be used in investigations involving violent crimes such as murder, assault or robbery. Even so, facial recognition can only be used as a “lead,” meaning it cannot be used as the sole basis for making an arrest or obtaining a warrant.
The police department rolled out its real-time crime center after the Public Safety Commission voted 3-1 in late November to approve policies governing the new technology.
Darryl Heller, the only board member who did not vote in favor of the measures, raised concerns about the effectiveness of video surveillance and the use of facial recognition, which he called “notorious bias.”
“I don’t think it adds enough to remove the potential harm that it can do,” Heller said in October, noting that facial recognition software has been shown to misidentify minorities more than white faces.
Research on the subject is also unclear whether more cameras equals less crime. An academic study conducted by Michigan State University for the Green Light Project found that while Detroit saw an overall decrease in shootings from 2011 to 2019, “violent crime has not changed significantly.”
The study did show an increase in property and disturbance crimes at Greenlight-affiliated locations, although the apparent increase in crime may be due to increased reporting of incidents rather than an actual increase.
The study highlighted a 46 percent drop in carjackings at Project Greenlight locations, suggesting the cameras are acting as a deterrent.
However, other board members said the technology was a step in the right direction.
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“Overall, I think it’s a good thing and it can be used to fight crime that’s been happening, and we want to address that. It needs to be vigilant to make sure it’s not being used in the wrong way,” Al Kirsits said. He is a former South Bend firefighter and current St. Louis Fire Chief. Joseph County Emergency Management Agency.
Heller also pushed for the release of a list of locations and businesses where the city installed the cameras, though Mueller wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea.
“This is an example of how we must balance our commitment to transparency with ensuring that the intended effects of these technology upgrades lead to the outcomes we want,” the mayor said. “The last thing we want is to tell the people who are causing damage in our city how to avoid the system.”
Email Marek Mazurek at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @marek_mazurek