In 2007, the U.S. government brought charges against The Holy Land Foundation for providing aid to Islamic terrorist organizations. On July 23, 2007, the group went on trial at the Earle Cabell Federal Building in Dallas. Because of the high-profile nature of the case and the public concern that terrorists might use it to rally anti-American sentiment, the trial served as a real-life test of the protocols and systems that had been put in place by Dallas businesses and law enforcement to improve security and safety in the city post 9-11. Following is an overview of those public and private resources.
Law enforcement. The newest weapons in law enforcement’s arsenal are the citywide CCTV system and the Dallas Fusion Center.
Camera system. Live since 2008, the system operates through a public-private partnership. Businesses in the city purchase and maintain the cameras, of which there are currently 112, while the police department monitors the camera feeds and responds to any incidents.
Of the cameras, 87 are located in downtown Dallas; 14 are placed in the Jubilee area, which has suffered from high crime in the past; and 11 are located uptown. Cameras survey the area according to a programmed schedule, but they can only pan down and move side to side so as to protect the privacy of businesses and residents. “All we concentrate on is what is in the public view,” says Lieutenant Tony Crawford, who serves as watch commander and oversees the camera system.
The main monitoring center is located in the Dallas City Hall along with the police 911 dispatch center. Another monitoring station is placed in the Dallas Fusion Center (more on this later). Approximately 35 police officers work in shifts of four to watch the cameras around the clock.
Camera feeds are also continuously recorded at 25 frames per second and stored for up to 14 days. According to Crawford, the high frame rate helps police capture details such as license plate numbers. The camera system also makes use of analytics. During the Holy Land trial, that information helped them watch for anyone suspicious approaching the building. The cameras did pick up someone videotaping the exterior of the building at 2 a.m. The police were dispatched and the issue turned over to the FBI.
In addition, on the second day of the trial, in an unfortunate accident, several acetylene tanks at a downtown business exploded, sending fiery plumes into the air and spewing debris across several blocks in the middle of morning rush hour. The cameras helped law enforcement assess and monitor the situation. “People were concerned we were under attack,” says Deputy Chief Vincent Golbeck of the Dallas Police Department, who served as incident commander. “But we were able to calm people down quickly, tell them it was just an accident, and keep them updated on road closures and other breaking news.”
Unrelated to the trial, the cameras have been successful in reducing crime. From January 2007, before the cameras were activated, through April 2010, crime dropped 30 percent in downtown Dallas and 12 percent in the Jubilee district. Since the cameras went live, there have been 14,162 camera-related calls and 3,611 arrests based on those calls.
When setting up the system, the city and businesses were careful to address public perception. The cameras have always been overt and are accompanied by signs letting people know that public areas are being recorded.
However, privacy has been less of an issue than demand for the service. If businesses are located in one of 26 areas designated by police as high-crime, those businesses can install public CCTV cameras, and the police will monitor them. But businesses outside of these areas must use private monitoring services. “We just can’t monitor cameras for everyone,” says Crawford. “[W]e can’t afford it.”
Another unexpected expense was maintenance. The maintenance was done piecemeal at first, leaving the police to deal with a patchwork of contracts.
“It seems obvious, but we learned that having a maintenance contract is very important, especially for a government agency,” says Crawford. “Now we have one contract with the public works department so that if one of our camera lenses gets covered in West Texas dirt, we have someone who can come out and fix it quickly.”