Security Dealer Puts CCTV Eyes on Unruly Halloween Crowd

MADISON, Wis.

A young security dealer just starting out in the security business is drawing attention in his hometown after using a video surveillance system to make a point about police strategy at an annual Halloween event. Greg Knowles, founder and owner of OmniPresent Systems LLC, set up two Sony cameras outside his Madison, Wis., apartment that faced State Street – the site of an annual, albeit impromptu, Halloween party.

The party had been tainted by unruly crowds numbering more than 100,000 that Madison officials had called “riots” the past two years and police have been having a difficult time quelling the revelers. This year was no different, a police in riot gear made more than 500 arrests and had to use pepper spray on the crowd to try to control it.

“The riots have been going on for three years and have gotten progressively worse,” Knowles told Security Sales & Integration, adding that he wanted to put his skills as a security installer into use to help find an answer to the State Street Halloween problems. “There has been a conflict in trying to point the blame for why this event is going south. I disagreed with some of the tactics used last year. Surveillance footage is unbiased.”

Knowles, who grew up in the area, set up two color CCTV cameras and had them facing State Street. Footage he captured shows revelers lighting small fires, throwing objects and taunting officers, while also showing police using force. That footage has been picked up by several local TV stations and is also being reviewed by city hall.

“As a security dealer, I understand the capabilities for surveillance to aide police tactics,” Knowles says. “When these events are happening, we need footage to better coordinate protection.”

Alan Pepper, a partner with the Los Angeles-based law firm of Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp LLP who specializes in security, says Knowles’ use of cameras to record the activities of the crowd and police were perfectly legal. “Cameras are generally OK as long as they’re not in a place where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy,” Pepper says. “You can have a camera in a mall, but not in a dressing room.”

Knowles questions many of the police tactics used this year, saying officers may have used questionable force. He has posted his surveillance footage at the Web site www.madisonriots.com. He says the addition this year by police of $16,000 stadium lights to the street did nothing more than to incite the crowd further, and the money would be better spent on cameras to monitor the crowd.

Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, in a letter to Knowles, disagrees that police used too much force. While he says the “jury is still out” on the use of stadium lights, he doubts cameras would be of any help. “Our observation is that cameras tended to draw crowds and can insight even more rowdy behavior. So it does not seem to me that a greater presence of cameras at the event would have the impact that you and I hope for,” Cieslewicz says in the letter.

Though only 21 and still a college student studying electrical engineering at the University of Madison-Wisconsin, Knowles has been running OmniPresent for two years – making a yearly profit of around $10,000. “After 9/11, I looked to move into this industry,” Knowles says. “This is something I have the desire to do.”

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