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Law enforcement agencies are tasked with the difficult job of keeping communities safe, a responsibility that never goes away. Advancements in security technology, however, are giving law enforcement agencies an advantage in the fight against crime.
Video surveillance has long been used as a deterrent and tool for capturing incidents as they occur, but recent innovations in IP-based cameras and wireless networks have made it even more practical for law enforcement applications. IP-based wireless video surveillance solutions provide law enforcement agencies with an affordable option to expand their community presence when operating budgets do not allow for hiring more officers.
Many police departments during the economic downturn saw their budgets cut and were asked to do more with less. To confront this challenge, police chiefs had to find cost efficient policing methods to reinforce current services. Chief James Hosfelt of the City of Dover Police Department in Delaware recognized early the value and benefits video surveillance would provide his city.
A few years ago, the City of Dover Police Department, like many law enforcement agencies across the country, was asked to reduce its operating budget and put hiring on hold. At the same time, the city was receiving an increasing number of complaints from downtown businesses and residents about people loitering, fighting and being disruptive after bars close. With a population of 34,120, Dover is a small capital city, but its population fluctuates continuously with Delaware State University, Dover Air Force Base, Dover International Speedway and Wesley College located in or near the city.
To address the public’s concerns, Mayor Carleton Carey, Sr. worked with Chief Hosfelt to evaluate the installation of video surveillance cameras in downtown Dover.
“We didn’t have the resources to add more police officers to patrol the area, so we had to come up with a customized solution for securing the downtown area,” says Mayor Carey. “This led us to contact Advantech, a security system’s integrator we’ve worked with on other city projects. Advantech helped us realize deploying a video surveillance solution downtown was feasible and an affordable solution to our problems.”
Advantech, based in Dover, Del., and the City of Dover began installation of a video surveillance platform that would immediately support patrol operations and also meet the city’s long term safety needs.
“The area the city needed to monitor downtown was a perfect fit for video surveillance,” says Ryan Kelly of Advantech. “The cameras provide 24-hour surveillance seven days a week, and give the city’s emergency dispatchers the ability to monitor incidents as they happen. This real-time information can then be shared to the responding officers.”
Late Night Crowd Control
Six pan, tilt and zoom (PTZ) cameras were installed and aimed at the streets and parking lots outside the downtown bars. The cameras were positioned to give the department’s emergency dispatchers the ability to monitor known trouble areas. To install the cameras, Advantech had to address getting power to the units and transmitting the video back to the police department’s dispatch center.
“The surveillance system is set up to monitor different areas throughout the city, so we needed data transmission to support the server being hosted on its own infrastructure,” says Kelly. “In this case, wireless transmission was the most effective and affordable option – and we knew it could continue to support the system as the city continues to broaden its reach.”
To transmit footage back to the dispatch center, Advantech installed wireless radios on top of City Hall and on top of the fire department, which receive video from various cameras, then transmit signals back to the police department via existing fiber-optic cables.
“The radios work together to create a long-range wireless network for the cameras to transmit video back to the dispatch center,” says Kelly. “The police department then can store the video electronically using a Honeywell Enterprise NVR. This feature enables investigators to access stored footage from previous events, and can be a major aid in conducting a police investigation.”
The video cameras are programmed to record footage 24 hours a day, seven days a week to ensure all potential incidents are captured. With live video streaming into the dispatch center, dispatchers are able to watch in real-time what a caller to 911 is reporting. This gives them the ability to share more detail about the incident to responding officers – increasing officer safety.
“The initial cameras were set up around bars that are busiest following local college events,” says Chief Hosfelt. “From the cameras, we can monitor patrons leaving the bars and dispatch officers to disperse a growing crowd before trouble arises.”
As a result of the cameras the Dover Police Department has been able to respond proactively to crowds developing outside on the streets following bar close. This has allowed the department to take an active approach to crowd control, while continuing to deliver emergency and safety services to other parts of the community. Dispatchers and on-duty Sergeants have real-time access to the camera feeds via two 65-inch monitors installed at the police department’s dispatch center.
“As we became more familiar with the proactive policing and officer safety benefits the video surveillance program provided, we began discussing with Advantech how we could expand the program,” says Chief Hosfelt.
Stopping Crimes In-Progress
As a result of the success the Dover Police Department achieved from the initial six cameras, Chief Hosfelt and Mayor Carey determined they should expand the video surveillance program to other parts of the city. The first expansion was to an eight-block area east of downtown. The neighborhood had been beset by criminal activity resulting from a growing gang presence.
To put a stop to the gang activity, the city and Chief Hosfelt installed eight IP-based PTZ cameras throughout the neighborhood. As with the previous installation, Advantech used wireless radio transmitters to establish a wireless hybrid mesh network for the cameras to transmit images back to the police department’s dispatch center.
Soon after the cameras were installed, dispatchers and an on-duty house sergeant where able to identify and alert patrol officers, including the SWAT team, to a violent crime in-progress.
“The cameras captured a group of masked men pull up to a house in the neighborhood and begin unloading items from the trunk of the car,” says Chief Hosfelt. “From the footage, dispatchers and the on-duty Sergeant were able to determine the men were unloading ammunition and firearms. Having this level of detail gave us the information required to respond quickly and safely to the incident.”
Patrol officers regularly receive limited information of a crime in-progress. They are receiving details in bits and pieces that dispatchers are getting from a 911 caller. If a business is using a silent panic alarm to alert law enforcement to a crime in-progress, officers, in many cases, are coming on to the scene blind.
“Having this incident captured on video allowed our dispatchers to share vital safety information with responding officers, so they knew to wait for backup,” says Chief Hosfelt. “The cameras gave us enough warning of the crime that we could establish a perimeter around the scene and dispatch the city’s SWAT team to defuse the situation.”
In a separate case, the Dover Police Department solved a homicide that occurred in the same neighborhood. In the incident, a desk sergeant assigned to the case accessed and analyzed pre-recorded footage from the afternoon the murder occurred. Not only did he locate the actual footage of the murder occurring, he also identified a witness on camera, who was at the scene of the crime when it occurred.
“We initially accessed video footage from the scene of the crime to see if it had been recorded or someone had seen it take place,” recalls Chief Hosfelt. “What we found from the video footage was a witness to the crime. This person normally would have never of come forward, but through the cameras, we were able to identify her and the route she walked that day. This allowed us to bring her in for questioning, collect her eye witness account and quickly solve the case. Without the cameras, no one would have come forward to report crimes in these neighborhoods. The cameras help us track down witnesses as well as perpetrators.”
Aiding Everyday Police Work
The technology quickly changed how the Dover Police Department went about gathering information for a case. When an incident is reported by a 911 caller, the on-duty sergeant can immediately pull up past or current video footage to determine whether the incident was recorded. When investigating a crime that’s already been committed, detectives are using video footage as evidence to present at trial.
The mere presence of the video surveillance cameras is also helping the Dover Police Department more effectively prevent crime by deterring criminals who previously took to the streets to deal drugs, commit robbery, or vandalize business store fronts and private property.
“By installing this system, our ultimate goal is to protect the citizens of Dover, create a safer environment for our police officers, and drive incentive for local businesses to move to the downtown area,” says Mayor Carey. “We’ve found that business owners want their store to be located in the parts of town where the video surveillance system has already been installed.”
Future Program Expansion
As a result of the success, the city has seen from the video surveillance system in mitigating noise complaints and reducing the city’s crime rate, the Dover Police Department is planning to further expand the system by installing 21 new cameras.
In phase three, the new cameras will be integrated into the existing network so each camera can be monitored and accessed through one user interface. Additionally, Advantech is upgrading the system and will add 16 terabytes of storage space to accommodate the additional footage the new cameras will record.
The third phase also includes the addition of two radio receivers to expand the wireless mesh network. One access point will be added to the top of the fire department. The second access point will be installed to connect back to the fire department connection via a new fiber-optic cable. These additional access points will extend the distance the wireless network can transmit video back to the Dover Police Department’s dispatch center.
“With the success we’ve seen to date, we anticipate this phase will further our ability of ensuring safety for both the merchants and citizens of Dover,” says Chief Hosfelt. “Down the road, we hope to extend the system to include the transit station and the local library – two areas where we continue to see growth in local traffic and commuters – likely in part, because of a growing sense of safety in this community.”
One easily closed homicide case pays for the system, adds Eric Schaffer, President of Advantech. “For a homicide, you might have five to seven investigators on one case, and then the trial is 10-18 months down the road. That’s a long time and a lot of resources on one case. Video helps identify the suspect quickly, and it runs the judicial process faster. Cameras help Dover efficiently deploy resources.”