The council of mayor and aldermen for the city of Vicksburg voted 3-0 Friday to pursue a contract for a new camera surveillance system to aid law enforcement.
The system is designed and operated by the non-profit group Project New Orleans.
Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said he was a supporter of the camera system.
“It gives us more preventative measures out there in neighborhoods that have high volumes of 911 calls,” he said. “It’s a more sophisticated level of protection. He uses technology to its fullest.
A group of Vicksburg officials visited the Project New Orleans Real-Time Crime Center at the University of New Orleans on Wednesday. The group included Flaggs, Police Chief Penny Jones, North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield and South Ward Alderman Alex Monsour, among others. The purpose of the trip was to obtain information on the surveillance camera system that the city is adopting.
The objective of the NOLA project is to develop and implement subsidized high-definition cameras, gunshot detectors and license plate recognition cameras in necessary areas.
The officials attended a presentation by Bryan Lagarde, criminologist and executive director of the NOLA project. Lagarde said one thing that sets the organization apart from other camera surveillance programs is the price.
Lagarde said the high initial and maintenance costs of other camera systems prohibit their usefulness.
“As a result (of these high costs), cameras very often go on poles at major intersections. They mainly capture traffic accidents, things like that,” he said.
These cameras end up missing more serious crimes in less traveled areas.
Chief Jones voiced her support for the camera system at the board meeting on Friday.
“I feel like the NOLA camera system is what Vicksburg needs right now. We’ve been through so many things, so many different crimes, but they’re just not isolated in any particular area; happening everywhere,” she said. “I think that’s something good that we need for the city of Vicksburg to help us solve a lot of these crimes.”
Aldermen Mayfield and Monsour echoed that sentiment at the board meeting.
According to Project NOLA, the average cost of each camera in the organization is just $150. Installation costs an average of $150, and annual camera operating costs average $180 per year. Part of the cost is determined by the needs of the region.
Lagarde added that lower costs aren’t the only advantage of choosing their cameras over options from other private companies. He said the technology is also more advanced.
After a presentation on the NOLA project, city officials were ushered into a surveillance area, a living room-sized space with a series of television screens covering one of the walls.
There, Lagarde demonstrated the power of cameras. One of the screens showed pre-recorded video of raccoons rummaging through a dumpster at night. The scene was rendered with sharpness. Lagarde then began to zoom out, revealing that the camera was mounted in the parking lot a few hundred yards away.
Project NOLA cameras are capable of recording video at 32 megapixels. Genetec is a private company that offers similar services. Genetec cameras, according to Lagarde, typically only record video at 1080p, or about 2.1 megapixels.
The video and data collected is stored on Project NOLA’s servers for two weeks, where it is readily available to law enforcement. Many law enforcement agencies that use the system also set up their own monitoring stations, like the one where the protest took place. Flaggs said he hopes to have a similar monitoring room for VPD.
The software used by the cameras contains many automated systems for facial recognition and registration of license plates. Tags are then automatically applied to vehicles and individuals. So a law enforcement officer can, for example, search the records for a man in shorts with a red shirt or a particular license plate and then be presented with the corresponding video footage instead of sifting through hours of video recordings.
Lagarde also said their facial recognition is superior to other systems.
“Traditional facial recognition is biased against African Americans because a lot of cameras have contrast issues,” he said. “They only see dark skin. Our cameras, especially in infrared (mode), are literally able to see regardless of skin color and time of day.
NOLA Project cameras are able to detect infrared light as well as visible light. At night, each camera provides its own light source in the form of an infrared beam, invisible to the human eye. This allows cameras to capture images that would otherwise be unusable.
Lagarde said the organization started after Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans faced, among many other problems, a shortage of available police. “We had to do something that worked as a really good force multiplier, where the cameras would go ahead and improve (the capabilities) of the few police officers we had left until we could increase the numbers.
Currently, there are over 5,000 Project NOLA cameras in the city of New Orleans. However, the city only has to pay for 500 of these cameras.
After Friday’s initial vote, Flaggs said he was ready to work on the next step to install the cameras in Vicksburg.
“The second phase would be to put together a team of people to figure out how many slots we need and figure out the slots (where) we need to put them,” he said. “And I suggest we put them in (areas with) high volume 911 calls and in subdivision areas where we know there’s an entrance and an exit.”
The City of Natchez adopted the camera system in 2018. According to the NOLA Project website, “Natchez PD Chief Armstrong credited Project NOLA with a 92% reduction in citywide homicides and a dramatic reduction in 911 calls in historically high crime cases. areas “.