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Tampa sets $2M ceiling for surveillance cameras at 2012 GOP national convention

TAMPA — The first time Tampa priced surveillance cameras for next year's Republican National Convention, officials got sticker shock when the bids approached $5 million.

So now the city has trimmed its plans from more than 200 cameras down to about 60. It set a top price of $2 million. And it cut high-tech novelties like helmet cams and unmanned drones from its wish list.

"All that stuff is very expensive, and we're on a budget, so we're going to have to be more prudent," Tampa police Assistant Chief Marc Hamlin said. "We thought $5 million was way too much to spend, so that's why we had to scale it down and tighten it up."

The city issued its latest request for proposals earlier this month. Responses are due Jan. 18, and the cameras must be in place by July 1.

That's because police expect 10,000 to 15,000 demonstrators to converge when the convention meets Aug. 27-30 at the St. Pete Times Forum.

In St. Paul, Minn., the site of the 2008 GOP convention, local officials told Tampa police the cameras not only helped them monitor the event but also created a visual record that was useful in the criminal prosecutions and lawsuits afterward.

Money for the cameras will come from $50 million in federal funds that Tampa will get to provide convention security. An estimated two-thirds of that money will pay for the 3,000 to 4,000 law enforcement officers that officials think the event will require.

But price and scope are just two of the differences in the city's latest request for surveillance camera proposals.

In its first request, the city asked for prices for both buying and leasing the cameras.

Not a single vendor offered a quote on a lease.

"We don't think it's a doable thing," Hamlin said. So the city is looking at buying a system it could end up keeping.

To the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, using the cameras downtown after the convention would be a problem.

For one thing, between the Channel District and areas like Harbour Island, downtown Tampa is increasingly residential, said John Dingfelder, the ACLU's senior staff attorney for mid Florida. Nor does downtown have enough crime to justify continuing to use the cameras, he said.

"I don't think that that's the kind of community that we want to be, under constant surveillance, especially constant surveillance by the government," Dingfelder said.

For now, Hamlin said, the city is focused on the convention, and experience from previous conventions has shown the cameras to be "very important to the safety and the security of the event."

What the city does with the cameras after the convention will depend on factors that include the cost of maintaining them, he said.

Tampa isn't just looking for cameras.

The city also is seeking prices on a sophisticated video management system that can " 'intelligently' recognize normal and abnormal behavior, without the need for human interaction," and alert officials within seconds.

The system the city wants should be able to track at least 300 moving objects within a single frame, monitor video feeds from at least 25 cameras simultaneously and give remote access to up to 150 users.

For an example of the kind of system that can do that, the city points to BRS Labs. The Houston company has developed specialized, powerful computer systems that use artificial intelligence to learn to recognize and react to patterns of activity.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, governments installed new surveillance cameras worldwide but often lacked people to watch them.

What emerged was a field known as video analytics, in which camera systems have been programmed to provide alerts when they spot certain things, like someone entering a building through an exit or a secure door.

But BRS says its signature system, AISight, which the city mentioned by name in its bid documents, can do even more.

For example, the company says, one of the first signs of trouble often is a crowd that either gathers or scatters quickly. AISight can learn patterns of activity for groups and can send an alert if, for example, there's a sudden change in the way a group moves through a scene.

But "the analytics can be pricey," said security consultant Anthony Utset, a former Miami Police Department official who was the project manager for that agency's $3 million closed circuit camera system.

So Tampa officials will wait to see what bidders propose this time.

"The behavioral recognition would be good," Hamlin said, and providing remote access to law enforcement commanders in the field is needed. But "it might not be a deal breaker if (the video management system is) too expensive."

Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com.

Tampa sets $2M ceiling for surveillance cameras at 2012 GOP national convention 11/28/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 29, 2011 8:50am]

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