A photo posted on BriefCam's Facebook page shows how the software can place multiple objects from different times in the same footage.

Earlier this month, Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration revealed some details of a plan to expand the city’s video surveillance system with SafeCam Platinum — a program that will give the city access to live footage from potentially thousands of privately owned cameras.

But the power of the city’s surveillance network doesn’t just come from the sheer number of cameras. Its effectiveness is largely derived from the potent software behind the footage.

In August 2017, three months before former-Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced the opening of the city’s $5 million Real Time Crime Monitoring Center, the city spent $2.8 million to buy a suite of software from Motorola Solutions that includes artificial intelligence and object detection to help law enforcement sift through the thousands of hours of footage recorded every day.

The package includes software called BriefCam, CommandCentral Aware, CommandCentral Analytics, and CommandCentral Predictive.

“My initial reaction is, holy cow, this is not just big brother. This is colossal brother,” said Bruce Hamilton, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Louisiana. “When you take a step back, you really get the sense that the surveillance state is rapidly expanding here in New Orleans.”

A year in review from Behind The Lens: ‘Very few colossal failures’

Our weekly podcast Behind The Lens is closing out the year with a recap of some of The Lens’ best stories, how we found them, how we reported them and what happened after we published them.

Host and producer Tom Wright talks to Michael Isaac Stein about his reporting on the Entergy astroturfing scandal. We hear how he first started to suspect that something was amiss at City Council meetings on the company’s proposed power plant and how he confirmed that actors had been paid to attend the meetings and support the plant.

Reporter Marta Jewson looks back on her work on Harney charter school. It started with a little-noticed audit that highlighted a number of financial problems at the school. Marta wrote up a story, and followed up, uncovering more and more problems with the school throughout the year. Ultimately all of Marta’s findings were confirmed by the Orleans Parish school district.

Plus, Marta has an update on “Brady’s room,” the story of Brady LaFleur — a special-needs student in New Orleans — and his mother Erin LaFleur, who refused to give up when the school system struggled to accommodate him.

Finally, Tom talks to Lens co-founder Karen Gadbois and Steve Myers — who is on leave from The Lens on a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University— about how The Lens fits into today’s fractured media landscape, nonprofit media sustainability and The Lens’ plans for 2019.

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With expected privatization of McDonogh 35, New Orleans is poised to become an all-charter city

The Orleans Parish School Board approved a contract on Thursday that would give McDonogh 35 Senior High School to local charter group InspireNOLA, New Orleans is poised to become the first major city in the country with no traditional, direct-run public schools.

Earlier in the week, McDonogh 35’s alumni association’s board urged the district not to hand the school over to the charter group.

The all-charter story has turned into somewhat of an annual traditional. Prior to Hurricane Katrina the city had a handful of charter schools. After the storm the state-run Recovery School District took over failing schools and either closed or converted all of them to charters. Of the schools remaining under district control, several converted to charters because it allowed them to reopen quickly. This summer, the last of the RSD’s schools returned to district oversight, giving the district control of a majority of the city’s schools for the first time in more than a decade.

The current board and Lewis have embraced the “portfolio system” of private contract management.

Baby Ben won’t admit new pre-K students next year

One of the city’s most sought-after elementary schools will not admit new prekindergarten students this fall, one year after converting to a charter school.

Officials from Benjamin Franklin Elementary Mathematics and Science School want to “revamp” the program — now offered for 3- and 4-year-old students — and they say they must take a year off to “figure out what structure works best for our families.”

“This will not affect any current pre-K students at Benjamin Franklin Elementary,” school spokesman Devin Johnson wrote in an email. Students now enrolled in the younger class, called “pre-K 3,” will be allowed to attend as “pre-K 4” students next school year, he said.

Charles Maldonado

Charles Maldonado is the editor of The Lens. He previously worked as The Lens' government accountability reporter, covering local politics and criminal justice. Prior to joining The Lens, he worked for Gambit, New Orleans alternative newsweekly, where he covered city hall, criminal justice and public health. Before moving to New Orleans, he covered state and local government for weekly papers in Nashville and Knoxville, Tenn.