Tampa gets six bids for surveillance cameras at the Republican National Convention

Published Jan. 19, 2012

TAMPA — On its second try, Tampa opened proposals Wednesday from six companies vying to install a network of surveillance cameras covering downtown during the Republican National Convention.

That's three times as many as bid last fall, when the city first tested the market.

Proposals came from IBM, Aware Digital, ADT Security Services, Total Recall Corp., CelPlan Technologies and Avrio RMS Group.

Avrio, one of the two previous bidders, is based in the Washington, D.C., area and provided video surveillance at both national political conventions four years ago.

It's a competitive group of bidders, an industry expert said.

"For the city it's a good thing, because it gives them variety," said security consultant Tony Utset, a former Miami Police Department official who was the project manager for that agency's $3 million closed-circuit camera system. "You want good choices."

This time around, the city is talking to companies with the right experience, he said.

"There's not a name on there that I would look at and tell you, 'This guy has no business being on there,' " Utset said. "They're all well-versed in their respective fields."

The city has said it will spend no more than $2 million on the cameras, but released no information Wednesday other than names of prospective vendors. Under an exemption to Florida's Public Records Law, details of the bids are exempt from disclosure for 30 days unless the city awards a contract sooner.

Tampa Assistant police Chief Marc Hamlin said a city evaluation team that includes information technology, police and purchasing officials will rank the proposals.

"I think we'll come out with the best product for our needs," he said.

City officials want the cameras in place by July 1, well before an anticipated 10,000 to 15,000 protesters converge on the convention, scheduled for Aug. 27-30.

Last fall, Tampa's first request for proposals envisioned a package with up to 238 cameras, including two unmanned drones. But the city received only two proposals, and the quoted prices approached $5 million.

So officials cut the number of cameras to about 60, set the $2 million ceiling and rebid the project. They also dropped high-tech novelties like the drones and helmet cams.

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 visual evidence that came in handy during court cases that followed the arrests.

Money for the cameras will come from $50 million in federal funds Tampa is getting for convention security. An estimated two-thirds of the federal money will pay for the 3,000 to 4,000 law enforcement officers that officials believe will be needed each day of the convention.

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Along with reducing the price and scope of its program, the city also made other changes in its latest request.

The first time around, Tampa officials asked for prices both for buying or leasing the cameras.

But neither of the two vendors that responded offered a lease, so now the city is looking at systems it can buy and keep.

That's a concern for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is talking to City Council members about whether Tampa needs a permanent system of surveillance cameras, especially downtown, where crime is low.

"I think a lot of people share my concerns about the post-convention issues," said John Dingfelder, the ACLU's senior staff attorney for mid-Florida. "They said they're definitely going to be keeping their eyes open when staff brings this issue to council."

In its latest request, Tampa also asked for prices on a cutting-edge video management system that could " 'intelligently' recognize normal and abnormal behavior, without the need for human interaction," and alert officials within seconds.

Tampa is interested in a system that could monitor video feeds from at least 25 cameras simultaneously and track 300 or more moving objects in a single frame.

In the industry, this behavior recognition capability is known as video analytics. It relies on specialized, powerful computer systems that use artificial intelligence to learn to identify and sound alerts about unusual activities, like someone entering a building through an exit or a secure door.

But that technology can be pricey. Utset questions if it would be worth it.

Video analytics are useful for cameras that have no one watching them, like security cameras at a warehouse. During the convention, Utset assumes Tampa's cameras will be actively monitored, so he wonders why police who can see a crowd forming on the screen in front of them would need an alert to tell them the same thing.

"If you're watching the views in real time," he said, "what are you looking for the analytics to yield?"

Richard Danielson can be reached at, (813) 226-3403 or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.