Is the 10 x more expensive Piedmont Cameras better?

City of Piedmont: 120 Vista Avenue, Piedmont, CA 94611 | (510) 420-3040

The City of Piedmont, CA is sharing the same problems as the communities that has joined Neighborhood Guard: A high rate of burglaries and violent home invasions. Like the members of Neighborhood Guard they want to use modern Security Camera technology to aid solving crimes. But this is where the similarities end.

Tasked with getting a quote for a camera system the Piedmont Chief of Police came back with a  1.1 Million proposal, that does neither include Operations (power and Wireless fees) nor Installation. The proposal is for 57 cameras, which gives a per camera price of  $20,235 ! ($1,153,416 / 57 cameras).

Neighborhood Guard $2,200 per camera site
City of Piedmont      $20,235 per camera site

Why is Piedmont’s solution so more expensive than the Neighborhood Guard solution?

Is it the installation? No, while Neighborhood Guard is based on volunteer DIY installation, the Piedmont quote does NOT include installation which will be a considerable additional expense.

Is it because of the mounting on PG&E utility poles? No, Neighborhood Guard does not mount on utility poles but instead mounts on private property we also use privately donated power. However the Piedmont Quote does NOT include Fees to PG&E. We have heard from a neighborhood in Berkeley that is using PG&E poles and power, that they pay $250/month per pole (includes electrical power). Assuming that each camera would need its own pole (worst case scenario) and assuming that Piedmont would pay the same as private citizens for pole access; the annual cost for poles access would be an additional 57 cameras x 12 month x $250 = $171,000/year. (Not to be confused with the $173,000 3-year extended warranty for the cameras).

Is it because of the Wireless Data Network? Yes, Neighborhood Guard members are saving considerable money using wired and donated internet connectivity, while City of Piedmont is adding Cellphone routers to the cameras to make them work. This is increasing the purchase price and helps to explain some of the difference in price. Note that the cost for wireless traffic is NOT included in the Piedmont quote. A representative Neighborhood Guard camera on a small quiet street is currently producing 24Gigabytes of images per month. Piedmont is proposing to place cameras on all city ingress/egress points, some if not most of these street will have more traffic than what we are seeing. Depending on the Data plan that Piedmont has with Verizon the monthly expense could be considerable.

Is it because the Cameras are more advanced? Yes. While both types of cameras are High Definition, have similar heavy duty weather proof housing, and run a version of Linux,  the Pips SpikeHD P-382 in the Piedmont quote uses a Dual Lens/Dual Image sensor technology, which is really 2 cameras in 1 housing. 1) Camera for Monochrome Infrared Images of License plates and 2) Color camera for the Overall vehicle. The Neighborhood Guard Camera Axis P1347e uses a single lens/imaging sensor technology to achieve the same results at a much lower price.

Is it because of the Infrared technology? Yes. The Piedmont Cameras has built in Infrared Illuminators, increasing the price of the camera. Neighborhood Guard is using off the shelf cost-effective Illuminators to get the best value for our members.

Is it because of the automatic License plate recognition? Yes. Commercial Automatic License Plate recognition (ALPR/ANPR) is expensive. The 3M Quote to Piedmont installs ALPR software on each camera resulting in the need for 57 commercial licenses. While it is also possible to get ALPR software for the Axis cameras we find that it is currently cost prohibitive. Instead we are working on a solution where images will be uploaded to a central location for automatic license plate recognition, reducing the needed licenses to only one! We are also investigating using open source software for Licence plate recognition, bringing the ALPR price down to zero.

 Is it because of Server infrastructure? Maybe. The Piedmont Solution does not mention Server infrastructure. This could indicate that they didn’t consider how to store the images collected by the cameras, or that it is just rolled into the existing Police IT budget as a hidden cost. One thing for sure this is not solved with a Costco DVR (Digital Video Recorder) for a few bucks. Neighborhood Guard is leveraging the efficiency of scale with cloud computing, outsourcing the It-maintenance to a professional Web-hosting company. for a Price of $100/per camera per year.

 Will the additional expense of the Piedmont quote give them a better system? NO.

System Capabilities
Feature Piedmont Pips Neighborhood Guard
Capture passing traffic Yes Yes
Capture License Plates Yes Yes
Coverage of Public Streets Yes Yes
Assist in Solving Crime Yes Yes
Shield Private Citizens from Police Surveillance No Yes
Neighborhood and Citizen Involvement No Yes
Protection against
“Freedom of Information Act” Stalking
No Yes
Free from  Gov. Privacy invasion
4th Amendment Issues
No Yes
Knowing who belongs in a neighborhood No Yes

Will the system be helpful in capturing Piedmont burglars after the fact.? Doubtful. The Piedmont system is designed to cover all the ingress and egress routes from Piedmont, the idea is that when a burglary occurs in Piedmont, police will review the footage from the cameras to determine the suspect. This idea will not be successful! Imagine a burglary triggers an alarm near Piedmont park at 10:15am on a Tuesday morning, The police would then have to review the footage from the cameras for the period 10:17 to 10:45am with 57 possible routes, and typical work day traffic, the suspect pool will be too large to be of practical use, even with a new full-time police investigator it will be like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. but there is good news, like in Tiburon, the cameras will help in catching car-thieves, Real-time alerting to police cars when a stolen license plate enters the city of Piedmont could lead to real results. Since many burglars drive stolen vehicles this could lead to a measurable drop in burglaries. In order to reliable connect a suspect to a burglary the suspect pools have to be much smaller. Instead of trying to cover 3,801 households residents with 57 cameras;  Communities will have to use a few cameras cover much smaller neighborhoods. e.g. 40-120 households are typically protected by 2-3 cameras. By using cameras that cost 1/10th of the proposed system, it will be possible to achieve all the advantages of the Pips proposed system while at the same time-saving a substantial amount of money and getting a better crime solving rate.

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