You asked, we answered: 34 things you probably don’t know about Atlanta

I was in an accident on a highway with cameras. Why can’t I get footage?

Cars driving down the Atlanta connector
Photograph by Marilyn Nieves/Getty

Were you on an interstate? Then, no, you wouldn’t be able to get footage. That’s because the 1,050 cameras set up to monitor traffic do not record, according to the state Department of Transportation. They’re live-streaming only to assist with real-time traffic flow. (And no, there are no federal cameras on the interstates.)

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Last year, 1,514 people were killed on Georgia roads. In 2015, there were 385,221 crashes statewide. Imagine if police (and lawyers and insurance companies) had access to the video of a collision and how far that information would go in establishing fault. But according to GDOT, “the storage of the data and the manpower to pull video to satisfy all requests is cost prohibitive to the department.”

Most states are like Georgia, pleading budget concerns when it comes to data storage. New Jersey is an exception; there, $100 can get you three hours of feed from certain cameras. The city of Atlanta is also an exception, municipally speaking. Here, almost 1,000 cameras owned and operated by the city retain video for 14 days. And yes, you can access it, provided you file an open records request with Atlanta Police Department with the date and location of what you want retrieved. Just do it before they dump the data. According to Dave Wilkinson, president and CEO of Atlanta Police Foundation, which operates the network, the feed will be preserved while the request is considered.

Incidentally, the 1,000 cameras constitute just 10 percent of the city’s overall surveillance network. The remainder are private cameras (and those of other government agencies, like Atlanta Public Schools) that are looped into the network. Wilkinson says the network’s greatest value is as a deterrent to crime. Authorities want you to see the cameras; that’s why many are illuminated with blue lights. And when crime happens, the goal is to give responding officers instant access to video surveillance of the scene, right down to scans of license plates.

This article appears in our November 2019 issue.