NEW YORK (Reuters) - The thwarted Times Square car bombing has fueled the debate over security cameras and expensive surveillance for major cities, possibly providing a business opportunity to the security industry.
The bomb scare and quick capture of the suspect prompted U.S. Senator Charles Schumer of New York and others to ask for at least $30 million more in federal aid for video and security measures for New York City.
That would be in addition to the $20 million in federal funding that has already been appropriated for 2010.
Whether the cost of high-tech systems is worth the payoff remains open to debate.
Prevention in the Times Square case last weekend came down to an alert street vendor who tipped off police -- not a multimillion-dollar security network.
Yet ubiquitous security cameras helped law enforcement collect evidence they will use to help build a case against the suspected bomber, who was arrested late on Monday evening.
“Cameras don’t prevent crime, and there isn’t exact facial recognition software like in the movies,” said Jeff Moss, a security expert and member of President Barack Obama’s Homeland Security Advisory Committee. “These security systems are great for evidence. After the fact, you can piece together what happened.”
Cameras need constant upgrades for better images, which adds to costs, and staffing issues limit their effectiveness, Moss said.
“It tends to push crime elsewhere, outside the camera’s view, and then the debate becomes, ‘Do you have enough people to look at all the footage?’ The answer is no,” Moss said.
New York began installing public and private cameras in the downtown area surrounding Wall Street in 2007, a system modeled after London’s Ring of Steel initiative in response to Irish Republican Army attacks in the 1990s.
There are at least 4,000 cameras in New York, owned mostly by private companies, up more than tenfold from 1998, according to a New York Civil Liberties Union census in 2006. New York manages 600 public cameras citywide, including 83 cameras in Times Square, the police said.
London, by contrast, has about 500,000 cameras, according to press reports.
Schumer, a Democrat, on Monday called for more federal support to fund “Securing the Cities,” a program to protect the city from a dirty bomb attack.
Companies such as Cisco Systems Inc and International Business Machines Corp (IBM) may be poised to benefit by providing video surveillance equipment and face recognition technology to police and corporations, security experts said.
An array of companies specialize in video surveillance security including ADT, Axis Communications, SightLogix, VideoIQ, and Voxcom. Sony Corp and Samsung Techwin also make security products.
“You can always make things more safe,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. “Do we think we have it right? We can always do better and we are working on that.”
Bloomberg said thermal imaging devices were used by the bomb squad. He said he would also like specialized cameras that read license plates, which are used in London.
The NYCLU tried recently to update their 2006 census of Lower Manhattan cameras below 14th Street but said there were too many cameras to count.
The group has filed two lawsuits, one due to privacy concerns and another to seek access to information gleaned from the cameras from the NYPD and Department of Homeland Security.
Additional reporting by Ritsuko Ando; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Vicki Allen