(Nov. 9, 2018) Since instituting a fleetwide bus camera surveillance program earlier this year, Ocean City transit officials report video footage helped identify several criminal suspects and address numerous driver related complaints.
Transit Administrative Manager Brian Connor said in addition to internal department investigations, the Ocean City Police Department and the city’s Risk Management department also used bus surveillance footage this summer.
“Since the spring we’ve had 42 [video footage] requests from one of the three stakeholders,” he said.
Connor said the bulk of those were from the OCPD Forensics Department.
“We work very closely with them because once we provide the video … that becomes an evidentiary legal packet and there is a chain of custody that must be followed, or it could be thrown out in court,” he said.
Transit Manager Mark Rickards said the 65-bus fleet has eight cameras installed on 35- and 40-foot buses, with 10 on 60-foot articulating buses and para-transit buses having a half dozen. All vehicles also have four cameras for exterior views.
“We have the whole exterior covered,” he said. “One looking front, one looking down each side and also one looking out the back.”
Capturing footage outside transit buses can prove useful on a number of fronts, Rickards said.
“When there is an accident or … collision where a car hits a bus, we can go back and look at that and determine liability or fault,” he said.
In other cases, exterior footage captures criminal activities, Rickards said.
“If there is a crime that supposedly happens, and the bus is going by at that time, the police can request that video,” he said. “The neat thing about these videos is you can pinpoint, slow them down, plus look at various speeds [and] angles.”
OCPD Public Affairs Officer Lindsay Richard said, in a similar fashion to private property owners’ surveillance systems, her department requests permission to use footage for investigative purposes.
Connor said bus surveillance footage proved useful in assisting police to identify and capture criminal suspects this summer.
“The feedback from the police department was … the clarity and quality of these images is awesome,” he said.
The new video system also helps address passenger complaints regarding drivers, Rickards said.
“Most times the complaints are found not to be valid,” he said. “The videos are very helpful in determining driver discipline and we couldn’t do that before.”
Reviewing incident footage also helps with driver training and retention, Rickards said.
“It’s hard to argue your own actions on the film,” he said.
Connor said in the most egregious cases, unruly passengers have assaulted drivers.
“This makes it incredibly easier for us to identify the perpetrator and under what circumstances this occurred,” he said.
The system also captures audio, which Connor said proved useful this spring after a passenger had a heated exchange with a transit driver.
“If you didn’t have audio, you would just think this is getting a little heated,” he said. “Once you heard the words … it took it to a completely different level where it was illegal.”
Now able to decipher the precise language used, which included threats of bodily harm, Connor said accurate blame was assigned.
“It made clear sense we were not at fault and yet this person was complaining we had done something wrong,” he said. “It’s funny how people remember what they remember.”
Other camera system perks include recording bus speeds and physical locations, Rickards said.
“The driver has a view [screen] up in the visor and they can select a live shot,” he said. “With this you can see what’s going on all the way in the back.”
Rickards also noted, unlike the City Watch system on the Boardwalk which are monitored live, bus cameras are intended to enhance public safety in response to reported incidents.
“They’re safe because something is watching but we’re not watching in real time,” he said.