Techs in the City: Microsoft builds super CCTV system in New York

Domain Awareness System - Microsoft and New York City
Domain Awareness System - Microsoft and New York City

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks during a news conference in New York, joined by New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly (left) and Microsoft Vice President of Americas Services Mike McDuffie (right)

A new video management system for New York City was officially opened last month that enables the police department to aggregate and analyse data from 3000 cameras and a number of radiation detectors throughout the city.

Based at the NYPD’s Lower Manhattan Security Initiative headquarters, the Domain Awareness System was jointly developed by the New York Police Department (NYPD) and Microsoft. It cost an estimated $30-$40 million to develop but as part of the deal, the city of New York will receive 30 per cent of revenues from future sales of the system to other cities.

It is hoped that the system will help police analyse data from cameras, radiation detectors, emergency 911 calls and mapped crime patterns more efficiently and effectively than before, to help police react faster to incidents and proactively prevent crime.

Uniformed police from the NYPD Counterterrorism Bureau and private security personnel man the centre and analyse crime reports as they come in. Suspect packages and vehicles can be quickly identified, the city claims, and NYPD analysts can search for suspects using smart cameras and automated license plate/number plate readers.

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and police commissioner Raymond Kelly officially opened the centre last month, six months after it became operational.


“Part of the reason we have been able to continue driving down crime to record lows while devoting considerable resources to counter-terrorism is our heavy investment in technology and our willingness to develop new, cutting-edge solutions to keep New Yorkers safe,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “This new system capitalizes on new powerful policing software that allows police officers and other personnel to more quickly access relevant information gathered from existing cameras, 911 calls, previous crime reports and other existing tools and technology.

“It will help the NYPD do more to prevent crimes from occurring and help them respond to crimes even more effectively. And because the NYPD built the system in partnership with Microsoft, the sale of the product will generate revenue for the City that will fund more new crime-prevention and counter-terrorism programs.”

“The system is a transformative tool because it was created by police officers for police officers,” said police commissioner Kelly. “Its development is a testament to the talent and experience of our officers. And this agreement with Microsoft will allow the NYPD to continue to fund innovative counterterrorism and crime prevention programs.”

“Microsoft is honoured to partner with the NYPD to provide these important public safety capabilities to other jurisdictions,” said Kathleen Hogan, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Services. “The NYPD is a respected leader and continuously innovating to ensure the safety of their citizens. It is a privilege to support their work with our technology and professional services.”

“By providing real-time analytics and improved situational awareness for the men and women on the front lines of counterterrorism and crime prevention, this new system can help further enhance public safety outcomes for New Yorkers,” said Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications commissioner Rahul Merchant. “And by using the New York City Wireless Network – our high-speed, mission-critical wireless broadband infrastructure – to support the Domain Awareness System, we’re leveraging an existing, innovative technology solution to provide ever more capabilities to police officers in the field.”

The Domain Awareness System is designed to retrieve and display information from cameras, license plate readers, environmental sensors and law enforcement databases. Using an intelligent and intuitive graphical interface, it provides real-time alerts and the means to quickly call up relevant information to guide and inform police action. Its mapping features, which are tied to rich data sources, support investigations, crime analysis and effective management of police resources. The system, developed by police officers for police officers, is an innovative tool that has the potential to revolutionize law enforcement, intelligence and public safety operations.

According to a NYC press release, examples of scenarios where the new system will help the NYPD prevent or solve crimes:

  • Investigators will have immediate access to information through live video feeds, and instantly see suspect arrest records, 911 calls associated with the suspect, related crimes occurring in the area and more;
  • Investigators can map criminal history to geospatially and chronologically reveal crime patterns;
  • Investigators can track where a car associated with a suspect is located, and where it has been in past days, weeks or months;
  • Police commanders can query databases to map, review and correlate crime information with the deployment of resources;
  • If a suspicious package is left at a location, the NYPD can immediately tap into video feeds and quickly look back in time and see who left it there; or
  • If radiation detectors in the field set off alarms and alert the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative command center, the new system will help quickly identify whether the radioactive material is naturally occurring, a weapon, or a harmless isotope used in medical treatments.

NYC has approximately 3,000 CCTV surveillance cameras connected to the Domain Awareness System. The majority of these cameras are in Lower Manhattan – south of Canal Street, from river to river – and in Midtown Manhattan – between 30th Street and 60th Street, from river to river.

NYPD has begun to expand camera coverage to in the boroughs outside of Manhattan.

Mayor Bloomberg dismissed claims that Domain Awareness was the beginnings of a Big Brother style surveillance system for New York City. “What you’re seeing is what the private sector has used for a long time,” Bloomberg said. “If you walk around with a cell phone, the cell phone company knows where you are…We’re not your mom and pop’s police department anymore.”

New York City has published privacy guidelines to control the use of the Domain Awareness System.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.