Philadelphia's Police Surveillance Cameras Can Take Weeks to Repair. What Takes So Long?

Only three city workers handle maintenance on the more than 550 taxpayer-owned cameras, including 428 police surveillance units.

For weeks, a police surveillance camera at North Broad and York streets in North Philadelphia showed black.

Another camera in West Philadelphia at 60th and Catherine streets wouldn't pan back and forth.

Back in North Philly, at 29th and Allegheny, a camera wouldn't zoom.

Malfunctions like these can take a long time to have fixed. Only three city workers handle the more than 550 taxpayer-owned cameras — including 428 police surveillance cameras — though there is a request for an additional two maintenance workers in the next budget.

NBC10 Investigators reviewed hundreds of pages of documents, received through a right-to-know request, that found nearly 100 of the police-operated cameras suffered from malfunctions or black outs for periods between Jan. 1, 2015 and Jan. 1, 2018.

View Broken cameras in a full screen map

Most of the malfunctions are minor in nature, such as water on the lens or lack of control over movement, according to the documents. Officials with the police department declined to be interviewed about the camera network.

A spokesman for Mayor Jim Kenney said the police camera network has "issues face by many municipalities that use public safety cameras."

"We have worked hard to address them, while at the same time expanded the number of cameras," spokesman Mike Dunn said in an email.

Both the police department and the commerce department are slated to add 75 cameras combined annually.

The city Office of Innovation and Technology is budgeted to add up to 50 cameras annually for the police department. The two organizations coordinate to determine the new locations.

Starting in 2018, the commerce department will fund the installation of 25 new city cameras along business corridors as enhanced safety.

"The number of Commerce funded camera installations will occur annually starting with 25 and may grow over time," Dunn said in the email.

He added that 94 percent of the city's 428 public safety cameras are fully functioning with no issues, while 4 percent are operating with "minor display issues."

Councilman Curtis Jones said he is working on legislation to mandate quicker maintenance on cameras that aren't fully operational. On the day of a recent interview, he said 35 cameras were reported not working properly.

"At the end of the day, minimum, we’re going to get more resources to it," Jones said.

In addition to the PPD cameras, the city Streets Department operates 120, the Delaware Valley Intelligence Center operates 11 and the Office of Emergency Management operates nine.

On a much larger scale, SEPTA operates by far the most surveillance cameras in the city: 2,911.

Outside of the city and transit agency, the University of Pennsylvania operates 11, the federal government (DHS/DOJ) operates 16 and the Philadelphia International Airport operates 13.

A camera costs $3,500-$4,000 to buy from the current vendor, Tyco Integrated Security LLC.

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