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“A landlord’s informed take on the D.C. camera program”

by Prince Of Petworth October 18, 2016 at 2:45 pm 47 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user John Sonderman

“Dear PoPville,

I was chatting with my landlord the other day about the D.C. camera stipend program, and he had some pretty good thoughts. He wrote them up for me:

Any sensor system, cameras included, are only as good as the neural system they are connected to. With present technologies, that means constant human monitoring, which is both very expensive and rarely done save for interior office building security, banks, and retail stores. Even there, humans with their short attention spans are only marginal. Passive cameras, like those that are everywhere in London, take a lot of data which is rarely analyzed which is why London is still blowing up despite having the highest camera density in the world. To be genuinely effective, the camera system must be dynamically reconfigurable including pointable and tied to a mitigation system if a problem is detected.

The DC effort is simply an attempt at a feel good solution, which will prove ineffective. Within the framework of present tech, lighting and physical barriers are the most effective. I would suggest that you and others keep the front gate always closed and the porch light on. Closed and lit are always less attractive to perps than open and dark. [The house] is effectively zombie-proof when all gates are closed and locked where possible.

Tying the sensors to a synthetic neural system would be the solution. Such an system would be capable of Artificial General Intellligence (AGI). Presently, AGI is thought to be decades away. However, I have a patented architecture which can support AGI and that we are in the process of pitching to VC folks, so watch this space. Better living through physics…

Side note: My landlord is a badass. He was a NASA guy from age 18 until retirement, sent instruments to every planet in the solar system, and ended his time there as a lead scientist in their robotics/exploration program responsible for developing technology for autonomous systems. He secured their four government patents on a synthetic skeletal muscular system, synthetic neural system, and psychological stability. I can’t think of anyone who knows artificial intelligence better than he does.”

While we’re on the topic: Mayor Bowser Announces Success and Extension of the Private Security Camera Incentive Program

“Today, Mayor Muriel Bowser, along with the Director of the Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants Michelle M. Garcia, reported on the success and expansion of Washington, DC’s Private Security Camera Incentive Program. The program provides rebates for the purchase, installation, and registration of a security camera system on the exterior of a building owned or leased by a resident, business, nonprofit, or religious institution.

Mayor Bowser originally introduced legislation to create the program in 2015 as part of her comprehensive public safety agenda, “Safer, Stronger DC.” Since the program was launched in February, over 1,000 applications for rebates have been approved, funding over 2,500 cameras across all eight wards.

“The Private Security Camera Incentive Program is an example of how we can work together with the community to create a safer, stronger DC,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser. “I am thrilled that so many people have taken advantage of the program. On multiple occasions since the program was launched, MPD has used camera video to aid in criminal investigations and the apprehension of suspects. I thank the Council for their support of the program, and recognize Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen for his leadership on this issue.”

Installed cameras must be registered with the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), providing officers with the ability to request the video footage while investigating criminal activity that may have occurred in the vicinity of the camera.

The program provides a rebate of:

· Up to $200 of the purchase price per camera installed on the exterior of a residential building, with a maximum rebate of up to $500 per residential address; and

· Up to $200 of the purchase price per camera installed on the exterior of a business, commercial, nonprofit, or religious institution with a maximum rebate of up to $750 per address.

For more information about the program, residents can visit www.ovsjg.dc.gov or contact the Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants at [email protected] or (202) 727-5124.”

  • Los

    In the meantime, in lieu of AGI, we could provide access to the cameras’ to the public (well most of the public)

    • Anon

      Public access to privately owned cameras? That’s a complete nonstarter.

      • Ben

        Public access to privately owned cameras that are *publicly funded*? I think it’s a fair request – it’s not like anyone is being forced to stake the stipend.

        • Anon

          Regardless of what you think about the fairness of the request, most people wouldn’t participate in allowing live access. (To say nothing about how difficult/expensive it would be to implement by the state.) The existing program simply asks for voluntary participation after-the-fact.

          • Ashy Oldlady

            It wouldn’t be difficult to implement. Most of these cameras are already publicly accessible online to anyone with minimal technical experience, when many users are careless enough to leave the default username/password in place.

          • ah

            So you’re saying the police could just flip to the camera at my front door any time they want? Um, no thanks.

          • Anon

            There’s a huge difference between hacking into a singular account and harmonizing hundreds of thousands different feeds.

          • Ashy Oldlady

            Sure, it wouldn’t be easy if you considered the technical ineptitude of DC government in general, but it’s not implausible.

      • Ouch

        Ugh, if requested in means, knock knock, I am a police officer I see you have a camera, here is my card. We had a shooting can you look and see if you have something? If so email it.

    • Ashy Oldlady

      This might actually be effective. I think it should’ve been a condition of the rebate program. Because you know there are loads and loads of busybody types around town with literally nothing better to do than snoop around in other people’s business. They’d probably catch quite a few crimes in the act of being committed. Also, many of these cameras have motion-activated recording capabilities. In a low traffic area, it’s pretty easy to review recordings.

      • Anon

        Except that this won’t ever happen.

        • Ashy Oldlady

          It already happened.

      • say what

        I thought it was a condition of the rebate. you have to agree to hand over any filmed evidence if requested by the police as part of your voluntary participation in this program.

        • Anon

          Viewing the cameras live is not the same thing as providing video evidence of crimes that have happened. The latter is part of the camera rebate program. The former is not.

    • U neighbor

      So that criminals can stake out your house and learn your arrival/departure patterns from the comfort and security of their own evil lair?

      • Los

        Hence the parenthetical

  • anon

    Eh. Software can do plenty in terms of pinpointing activity that can be referenced later to determine what happened when. Is it likely to prevent a crime? Maybe not. But, if a crime is serious enough, it could be useful for investigation/prosecution.
    Artificial intelligence wouldn’t do much more. Unless there were also armed enforcer bots right there on the premises.

    • Anon

      Yea, I fully agree that the landlord seemed to pull some wool over the tenant’s eyes with that spiel. I think the AGI discussion is much more applicable to a centralized system (like London’s). No way would individual tenants want to give up real-time access to some centralized system.

    • anonaposter

      I think this landlord is in fact suggesting something along the lines of ‘armed enforcer bots’ or at least raising an alarm for immediate human consumption:

      “To be genuinely effective, the camera system must be dynamically reconfigurable including pointable and tied to a mitigation system if a problem is detected.”

      In any case, AGI or ‘strong AI’ (i.e. fully human AI) is indeed decades away and is likely overkill for this task anyway. As someone with a doctorate in machine learning, I’m skeptical of the claim “I have a patented architecture which can support AGI.” But we are already capable of building bespoke pattern recognition (in this case, computer vision) systems that could classify activity in a video, and certain identified patterns could raise a signal to a human. I haven’t explored ML applications in this area (security), but I’m sure folks are doing work here.

      I agree that cameras are mainly intended as a deterrent and an investigative aid. It would be interesting to see data on crimes committed over time along with camera rebate locations.

      • Anon

        Apparently there’s been a really slow uptake on the rebate program, so I’m not sure if we’ll see any meaningful data anytime soon.

  • Kevin

    My company utilizes software that replaces that person with different sensors/cameras (IOT). The technology is already available to solve these issues presented.

    As for London, I don’t even want to sidebar this topic with that tragic situation.

  • Anon

    Just this past week, as I was relaxing by a street-facing window, I overheard a couple of ne’er-do-wells loudly proclaiming that they couldn’t care less about cameras, and would do whatever it is they wanted to do regardless of their presence (I’m paraphrasing here). They must’ve been in their late teens, early 20s, who were clearly disaffected and wanted all latent passerbys to know this. (Never mind that there wasn’t anyone else in the street when they walked past.)
    Now, granted, this is an isolated anecdote. It could very well be the case that some would-be burglars/assailants do, in fact, care about being caught and think that a passive surveillance system could aid in their capture. But I don’t think that’s the case for most of these numbnuts. I’ll probably get one at some point to act solely as a visual deterrent for that presumably small subset of would-be thieves, but I wouldn’t necessarily count on much else.

    • ah

      I’m guessing the issue for them isn’t the lack of deterrence from cameras but the lack of deterrence from police enforcement. The police don’t care if there’s no violence/injury or the value of physical damage is <$5000.

      • U neighbor

        My mind went more towards the fact that some folks are in such a sad state as to not really care about going to prison

        • Anon

          I think both are very valid.

        • Karen

          I think the real problem is that they are not likely to go t prison for this. I have a camera, and at least for me it has been a deterrent. We have only had 1 package stolen in the.3 years I’ve had the camera, and that is living off of H St. NE where we were getting at least once a week. In the one case, I had a great shot of the culprit and was able to easily email it to the police. The detective said it would be helpful if they caught him. But thae tone was clear that this is not a high priority. Amazon sent me another item, so little effort is going to be put into catching the guy. It wasn’t an expensive item, so it would be petty theft, and not likely to receive jail time. So, the camera is a deterrent I think for 1) delivery people who are more worried about losing their job than going to jail, 2) someone in the neighborhood that I would recognize, and 3) the opportunistic criminal who isn’t going to work that hard for it.

  • Trinidaddy

    only thing that comes to mind after reading that is a quote from T2:

    The Terminator: My CPU is a neural-net processor; a learning computer. But Skynet presets the switch to read-only when we’re sent out alone.

    • anon

      and I totally read that in my AHNOLD voice

    • ah

      So if it’s read-only, how did T2 learn stuff, like to find the keys in the visor of a car?

  • Anonymous

    Well the fact that you can capture quality images/vidoeo of the person/s who attempted or successfully gain entry to your property. This would make it easier to find them as well as proof which is also more likely for you to recover your items. Id rather have cameras than not. No it wouldn’t stop someone who is hell bent on breaking in, neither would barsnif they have the right tools.

    • HaileUnlikely

      This. Agreed. My understanding of the camera program was that the whole point was to aid in catching and prosecuting criminals – if any deterrent effect manifests itself, which I agree is unlikely, that is just a bonus.

  • mtp

    Did you think 1984 and Minority Report were feel-good stories? You’ll LOVE “mitigration systems” for “detected threats!”

  • Guillermo Brown

    Neural system-whatie? I have a camera with a motion sensor, and when someone broke into my house recently, I was able to send MPD a video of the suspect and an arrest was later made. Works well enough for me. Lets not over think this

    • NT


    • Itsuo

      Would mind sharing what system you used? Arlo by any chance?

      • Guillermo Brown


    • I have cameras

      We had packages stolen and I was able to provide the video to police. Same here…works well enough for me.

  • textdoc

    I don’t think MPD or anyone else is making the argument that the OP’s landlord seems to be refuting, i.e., that security cameras provide some way of stopping crimes that are in progress.
    The idea with security cameras is that they might have a deterrent effect, and that if they don’t, they provide a record of the robber/assailant/whatever that the police can use to try to find/identify him.
    And as for London, the landlord’s logic (and his characterization of the city as “still blowing up”) is faulty. Sure, CCTV didn’t prevent the terrorist attacks of 7/7, but as I said earlier, prevention isn’t generally the purpose of CCTV. The footage enabled police to (after the fact) figure out where the suicide bombers entered London, the Tube, etc. and (if I’m remembering correctly) to identify them and subsequently raid their homes.
    And if British TV shows are to be believed (yes, I recognize there’s likely a “CSI factor” at work in British shows as well as American ones), British police use CCTV footage all the time when investigating murders, robberies, etc.

    • Parkview Camera Owner

      I agree. This program has been around for a while actually and only recently did it become more well known. As a homeowner who benefited from the program, I appreciate the fact that I have a record of anyone trying to gain access to my house from the front or rear. I mean, I don’t think it’ll stop someone but maybe the police will be able to identify the people. Its better than not having any record.

      PS Its also very useful to have to provide evidence of package thieves and the delivery people saying they “tried” to deliver packages when they obviously did not.

  • Rich

    It’s funny to see all the reaching to make this seem worthwhile even in the face obvious civil liberties issues. Yet, The little evidence is for cameras is isolated anecdotes and even security professionals, when pressed, will admit this is mostly a fig leaf.

    • James W.

      What civil rights issues? People have no expectation of privacy when they are walking down the street or loitering in your yard or on your porch. It’s the same principle that allows citizens to record all those police interactions that result in true civil rights issues.

      • Anon

        +1 to James. Also, the owner of the property and camera retain the footage unless they turn it over to police as evidence in a crime.

  • Mickey’s BFF

    Does he have any other apartments for rent?

  • Anon X

    The landlord is overthinking this and brings to life the cliche about when you’re a hammer every problem is a nail.

    At a minimum, it’s interesting to me he sees a deterrent effect in a closed gate and a light but none with the presence of a camera.

    The whole point of having a camera is for real time monitoring. It’s to have something to give to the cops. So cameras aren’t a fig leaf and no security expert is going to say that with any intellectual honesty. But the camera, in order to be effective, has to have an interested party recording the data and the quality of the footage has to be good enough to render a useful picture.

  • James W.

    I’m pretty sure DC’s program was never touted as some kind of citywide 24/7 surveillance system. It’s just a rebate program so you, as a homeowner or renter, can install a personal security camera that can send video or images to your computer for storage and future review. I get that the dude worked for NASA, but we’re not talking about Minority Report here.

    • Anon

      Correct. The NASA nerd just wanted to flex his guns. (Which, cool as fuck)

    • stacksp

      Yeah and rebate or not, homeowners should take the initiative to protect their home the best way the know how and can afford whether they have tripwires, infrafred lasers or a privacy fence, etc. DCs program is just an incentive to do something because its surprising how many people have zero home security.


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