In 1964, 28-year-old Kitty Genovese was murdered outside her apartment in Queens, New York, while a reported 38 people saw or heard the attack, none of them called the police or tried to help her. This was the incident that inspired the first Neighborhood Watch scheme, a movement that spread across the US in the 1970s, the UK in the 1980s, and still maintains millions of members worldwide. The community-driven crime prevention initiative has become a useful tool for district-level safety for decades but now data-age video surveillance technologies offer a smarter way to watch the neighborhood.
Last week provided a big boost for one such technology as Atlanta, Georgia, based public safety-as-a-service company Flock Safety announced a $47 million Series C funding round led by Meritech Capital. The company’s ALPR Camera System scores hours of video footage to identify suspicious activity such as unrecognized vehicles or unusual movements. Both the community itself and the local police department have access to the footage and its AI analysis, thereby promoting community safety and supporting law enforcement.
“Crime is an incredibly hard problem to solve,” said Garrett Langley, Flock Safety’s founder and CEO. “Since nearly 70% of crime happens with a vehicle, machine learning and computer vision can capture objective evidence, like vehicle details, to help communities give a detective the lead needed to solve a crime. We plan to use this capital to hire the smartest and most ethically-conscious people to help us achieve our mission of eliminating crime. Across engineering, sales, and customer-focused roles, the company will at least double in size next year.”
Data compiled by the FBI suggests that of the nearly 7 million US property crimes each year, fewer than 20% offer enough evidence for police to solve them. The suite of products from Flock Safety has been designed to change that statistic, allowing neighbors, local businesses, police, and city authorities to work together to capture the objective evidence needed to tackle crime. The technology, which has already been implemented in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Cobb County within the company’s home state of Georgia, where it has been welcomed by the respective law enforcement agencies.
“Flock Safety has proven a valuable investigative tool. Since the first few minutes of having access to Flock Safety technology, officers and detectives were able to leverage the technology to locate wanted vehicles and subjects creating a much safer Indianapolis,” says the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Deputy Chief, Valerie Cunningham.
“Flock Safety provides the single best tool I have seen in 30 years - enabling true community policing. Flock unites us with our neighbors and businesses and directly develops leads we would not develop without this technology. With Flock in our highest crime communities, we saw sustained drops in criminal activity of 30% to 60% in both property and violent crime,” added said Cobb County, GA, Assistant Police Chief Stuart Van Hoozer.
AI-enabled video surveillance is nothing new, nor are the privacy concerns that have held back adoption of the technology. However, all Flock Safety products and services are built with privacy-first policies, such as automatically deleting the footage every 30 days and never sharing with third parties or selling the data. All footage is encrypted and securely stored in the cloud, there is no facial recognition technology, and the company assures the public that the cameras are not used for traffic or immigration enforcement. Through these measures and the neighborhood watch style community approach, Flock appears to be tackling this obstacle with a big step towards making AI video surveillance a mainstream technology in the US.
“In 2019, AI Technology applied to Video Surveillance convinced the market that by 2020 it will become mainstream. Significant improvements in AI Video Analytics software are making this possible and over the next 10 years it will become a standard requirement across Video Surveillance solutions,” we said in our Q4 physical security report. “There is a critical need to make full use of the massive amounts of data being generated by video surveillance cameras and AI-based solutions are the only practical answer. Modern chip architecture with AI software can comb through vast volumes of data and boost security and safety. Granted, there is a lot of development in this field that we are yet to see, but the path towards AI seems quite clear.”
Video has long been the most effective form of surveillance but using humans to monitor footage is error-prone and unfeasible at scale. The logical evolution from a technological standpoint is computer vision, where AI systems learn to recognize visual patterns that may be of interest for the application they have been designed for, then highlight them to human controllers.
While there are many positive applications of the technology, the opportunity for misuse is undeniable and that will continue to be the biggest barrier to the technology’s success. However, Flock’s privacy promises and community alignment appears to be a potential recipe for success in a market that is bursting with growth potential.