Jackson unveils real-time crime center that draws upon 600 cameras around the city

In an effort to combat crime, Jackson officials unveiled a real-time crime center on Thursday, which will connect to a video surveillance network in the city.  

The network will consist of more than 600 cameras that span the city and are connected to the crime center. About 500 of those cameras are from existing city properties, private businesses or state agencies such as the Mississippi Department of Transportation that have agreed to participate. 

Officials say the system — similar to that in cities such as New Orleans — will help the police department tackle violent crime in Jackson, where the number of homicides has reached a historic high.

“This center is a tool to help us better respond to crime and in some cases to prevent crime,” said Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba at the unveiling. 

Officer Dennis Greene monitors the screens inside of the Jackson Police Department's new Real-Time Crime Center in Jackson, Miss., Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020.

Participation in network voluntary 

Participation in the network is voluntary and the use of video footage is based on incidents that are reported in real time, said JPD Chief James Davis. The city plans to setup a website that will allow other Jackson residents with video surveillance capability to participate. 

Davis called the center a public-private partnership based on similar centers in other cities. 

Jackson Police Chief James Davis speaks during a ribbon cutting and unveiling ceremony for Jackson's new Real-Time Crime Center in Jackson, Miss., Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020.

“I wanted to find out what was their success. And everybody talked about virtual policing,” he said. 

Outside of crime, the system will also allow city officials to monitor extreme weather events, missing persons, traffic accidents or terrorist acts if necessary, Lumumba said. 

At any given time, about five officers will monitor the crime center’s network of live cameras 24 hours a day and seven days a week. The officers will be connected to 911 dispatchers as crime is reported and the center will receive a series of alerts in real time — such as Amber and Silver alerts — from other sources. 

They will then have the ability to access live camera feeds or alert others in the network of a possible crime. The video surveillance can then be saved and sent to patrol officers in the immediate area.  

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Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba speaks during a ribbon cutting and unveiling ceremony for Jackson's new Real-Time Crime Center in Jackson, Miss., Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020.

No facial technology involved, mayor says

The system will not use facial technology software, a concern of some City Council members and community activists in earlier discussions of the center. 

“This is not an effort to invade people’s privacy,” Lumumba said. “This is not an effort to take away people’s reasonable expectation of privacy.”

“If you commit a crime or do something in the middle of Capital Street,” the mayor added, “you didn’t intend for it to be private in the first place.” 

The technology at the center will use license plate identification technology, however, which can tag and alert the center of a suspect vehicle. An example of that capability could be seen Thursday inside the command center. A camera in the network had detected the license plate of a suspected stolen vehicle. A window popped up on the screen of one of a dozen monitors with a still image of the vehicle and its license plate number. 

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Center unveiling years in the making 

The unveiling of the center follows years of work behind the scenes to secure funding and hammer out details with organizations across the city, said Lumumba.  

The city still awaits the $4 million in funding for the center that former Gov. Phil Bryant promised the city after the slaying of a pastor in front of a church last year. 

Screens are monitored inside of the Jackson Police Department's new Real-Time Crime Center in Jackson, Miss., Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020.

“We would like the support of the state. We would like the resources that have been promised to us, but we have not waited for that to take place,” Lumumba said. 

The center is funded by a combination of federal, state and local grants, said JPD grant writer Juan Gray.  

Contact Justin Vicory at 769-572-1418 or jvicory@gannett.com. Follow @justinvicory on Twitter.