Manchester police pursuing system to capture security videos across the city

Jun. 2—Manchester homeowners, businesses and just about anyone with a security camera would be able to feed their video to Manchester police under an information system under consideration by the department.

Police said video feeds would be integrated and used in real time to assist officers who are responding to a crime. It also could save time for detectives, who now have to approach people and ask for their security camera video while investigating a crime.

Department leaders gave an overview of the Fusus system to the Manchester Police Commission and a police community advisory board on Wednesday.

"The owner of the camera decides what the police can see and cannot see," said Lt. Matthew Barter, the chief of staff to Police Chief Allen Aldenberg. For example, Manchester schools are considering limiting their feed to high-priority calls.

The system has been implemented successfully in Atlanta and Minneapolis, he said. No other New Hampshire municipality uses the system, but New Hampshire State Police use it in a limited fashion, he said.

The first step would be to channel the feed of 285 city security cameras into the system. The cameras capture the interior and exterior of city-owned buildings such as libraries, City Hall and fire stations. The Manchester school board would have to approve school feeds into the system.

Barter said police are unveiling the system to community groups and are formulating a policy for its use. This summer, police expect to bring it to Manchester aldermen for approval.

He did not know the cost but said it would likely have to be funded by a grant or city-authorized debt.

Privacy questions

The public-private nature of Fusus concerns Carla Gericke, a Manchester resident and liberty activist.

"It's a backdooring of the surveillance state," said Gericke, the board chairman of the Free State Project.

While police are coming up with more ways to surveil people, they are taking steps to keep information secret, Gericke said, citing scrambled police radio transmissions and interviews with body cameras, which are exempt from Right-to-Know disclosure.

Gericke sued Manchester police in 2019 over the installation of a surveillance camera in downtown Manchester, a suit that she lost.

Barter said he realizes that questions will arise regarding surveillance and civil liberties. He said a balance has to be made.

"We know we have challenges in this state. We're not like other states that put cameras up everywhere," he said.

Officials said no one will be sitting at a desk monitoring video feeds without reason. When a crime takes place, a dispatcher will be able to access feeds from neighborhood cameras.

The camera owner will have to pay $250 for the hardware that allows a four-camera feed, Barter said.

Those who don't want to pay for the feed can opt to register their security camera with the police. When a crime takes place in their neighborhood, police will send them an email asking for video from a certain time frame.

That saves time for detectives, who otherwise would have to knock on doors and ask for a feed, said Sgt. Emmett Macken.

"I don't think I've ever knocked on the door, and they said, 'We're not giving it to you,'" Macken said.

Alderman-at-Large June Trisciani, a member of the advisory panel, said the system has prompted a response when mentioned at recent neighborhood meetings.

"People want to help, and this is a way to help," she said. But she said police will have to warn homeowners where they can't point their cameras — for example, at a neighbor's back yard.

Some aspects of the system:

—FususAI can search feeds and find descriptions entered by police such as "backpack" or "red truck." Barter said that does not involve facial recognition, and descriptors cannot be employed that involve race or ethnicity.

—FususAlert amounts to a panic button and would allow people with an app to start sending a feed into the police station. For example, a teacher could trigger that app.

—FususTips would allow someone to text a photo or video from a social media feed or other source.

—FususVault would store video needed as evidence in a trial.

Barter said a Manchester policy would require that a case number or call number be associated with every saved video, and every click into the system would be logged.

The Manchester Police Commission, a citizen advisory board, would review the activity logs on a regular basis.