Big brother is no big deal anymore.

From Los Angeles to Miami, from Lancaster, Penn., to Bryan, Tex., and many points in between, city governments and law enforcement agencies employ security video in streets, parks, plazas and crime-prone hot spots, often at the request of neighborhood residents. People are reassured by the technology; officials believe in the ability of security video to deter and displace some crimes while getting more out of the images in post-incident investigations.

Cameras – fixed and pan-tilt-zoom (PTZs) – are high up on utility poles or mounted on the sides of buildings with links to command centers via a city’s fiber optics cabling or wireless mesh networks. Police vehicles in some designs can hop on the net to view a scene before arriving at it. And schools, colleges, high-rise buildings and even some single family homeowners are hooking in their cameras to the city-wide net, or demanding to join in.

Security video in pubic places has definitely come a long way, from the perceptions thanks in part to George Orwell’s classic dystopian novelNineteen Eighty-Four.

Oh Well, Mr. Orwell

“It’s a force multiplier,” said Joseph Morales, executive director, Lancaster Community Safety Coalition. Uniquely, the coalition, a nonprofit organization formed to prevent crime in the nation’s oldest inland city, Lancaster, Penn., researched, bought, placed and monitors a fiber optic-connected system of 162 cameras. The coalition uses a three-pronged approach – environmental design, community mobilization and technology – to aid police. Bosch PTZ cameras are spread throughout the city, streaming video over more than 100 miles of fiber to the coalition’s monitoring center.

The coalition’s monitoring facility has a direct line to the city’s center for 911 calls for times when police need to be immediately dispatched to an area. “We can even send live video to flat-screen monitors in the emergency center to help the dispatchers communicate more effectively with officers patrolling the streets or arriving on a scene,” added Morales.

Staff monitoring the Lancaster system found a wandering patient; determined it was natural causes related to the body found on the street; and video of a fire turned into a fire department training tool. The coalition records on a Bosch digital video recorder (DVR) and keeps images for seven days. For law enforcement, the investigation bottom line is savings in terms of hundreds of man hours for many incidents.

“This video surveillance system is extremely progressive for a city the size of Lancaster,” Morales said. “There is a definite link between crime reduction and growth. Our citizens no longer perceive downtown as a high crime area, which has helped bring more people into the city from suburban areas.”
In Bryan, Tex., a first phase of security video in public spaces included six cameras downtown, according to Deputy Chief Peter Scheets. “The city was investing in the downtown area,” he said, “and security was part of that effort.” A second deployment of four cameras aims at critical infrastructure, with the help of integrator ADT Security Systems.

Evolving and Expanding

The cameras operate 24/7 and images are accessed by the Bryan Police Department’s Criminal Intelligence Unit, which monitors real-time for special events, which can bring in an additional 20,000 people to the city’s 65,000 residents. For Scheets, the future may include expansion of the net into outlying areas of the city as well as hooking into the school’s system. “There’s a lot of potential in smart cameras, too,” added Scheets.

Jim Landtrip, ADT’s regional director of sales and application support, said that it is best to first understand a client’s wishes, especially when looking at security video in pubic places, and then choose technology that is feasible and flexible. Intelligence in the camera, HD cameras, wireless mesh and mobility in image display are all hot buttons, contended Landtrip.

Ray O’Hara, executive vice president, international services and consulting and investigations with Andrews International, advised that, when seeking security video for public spaces, first evaluate existing and potential risks and the ways video can mitigate those risks. In his case, he said, technology supports the staffing model, for example as a help to the officers in mall public spaces.

Private security video also aids in law enforcement investigations. “Convenience store video, in one incident, showed people buying liquor before an arson fire started by people drinking in the hills above Malibu.” When in comes to privacy concerns, O’Hara suggests common sense: Ask yourself, is it going to bother anyone? And then reach the necessary conclusions.

Re-Filled Territory

Sergeant Chris Kovac of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department realizes the vast territory to be patrolled as well as the density of radio frequency traffic in the area. So, when it came to transmitting security video in public places, he immediately saw the value in Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO) wireless mesh systems.

“Based on our testing, we expect to achieve up to 300 Mbps for a point-to-point backhaul transport connection that will expand our video surveillance wireless infrastructure mesh network from Firetide to cover Ted Watkins Memorial Park in Los Angeles, which, like much of the city, is a very congested RF area,” said Kovac, who is also with the Sheriff’s Advanced Surveillance and Protection (ASAP) area.
Cameras are in high crime areas and at intersections. There are command centers in each of the 26 Sheriff’s stations. With wireless mesh, there is rapid deployment and redeployment when needed. “The approach has been overwhelmingly positive. All cameras are overt, visible and have signage,” commented Kovac.

Tony Utset, senior executive assistant to the chief, in the field operations division of the City of Miami Police Department, shared Kovac’s eagerness for security video in pubic places and the complementary use of wireless mesh. “Like any major large city, security video is evolving into our functions. About two years ago were started to deploy security video,” he pointed out.

“Our limitation and true challenge is funding,” Utset observed. “Homeland security funding covers the technology but not ongoing maintenance and dark fiber was not an option.” He spent time in the front end of the process. “Be clear with vendors,” he advised. “Be clear in your specifications. Avoid the taboo phrase like ‘full motion video’ and ‘works in very low lighting.’” Utset also urges integrators and their end-users to also understand unique geographic conditions that could affect security video in public places. “In south Florida, you have to compensate for rain fade, for example, in terms of image transmission.

Getting Proactive Technologically

The Miami Police Department takes an aggressive, proactive approach with its video technology. “We also are evaluating third party feeds from such places as HUD housing, the tollway and the rail system,” Utset said. “There are zero concerns with the wireless system. Small antennas are on third party poles and there are no problems relative to power outages, fluctuations, surges or alignment issues.”
Public place solutions can come in specific packages.

Transurban Group, which runs the tolls and maintenance for the Vietnam Memorial Bridge in Richmond, Va., sought to install a video surveillance system to monitor road conditions. Special challenges included spanned height and weather issues, including snow and high winds.

“Because there was no existing infrastructure, a point-to-point wireless mesh network was the way to go for this installation,” explained John Bodolay of Acme Technical Group, who served as integrator for the project. The ramps of the Vietnam Memorial Bridge, which crosses the James River, are quick to freeze over in winter. As part of the Pocahontas Parkway linking Interstates 95 and 295, the bridge provides a Southern bypass of Richmond and accommodates an especially heavy volume of traffic. This video surveillance installation incorporates the Fluidmesh mesh net and Pelco Spectra IV IP camera.

From big cities to small towns and a Virginia bridge, there’s no doubt that security video in public places is catching on. Carolyn Ramsey knows. The Honeywell director of the video analytics program said that there is huge growth, and that city administrations and law enforcement are using video for security, traffic congestion and management of such things as parking. She believes that public spaces are very challenging, especially when it comes to fighting street drug trafficking, for example, and noted that video security doesn’t stop crime but displaces crime.

The Role of Video Analytics

Video analytics can make a difference. Ramsey noted that there are stronger arrests of drug dealers if you can document a series of deals and not just the observation of one. Video analytics can help. After the system sees the same guy do it four times, the system alerts law enforcement to watch the fifth.
In addition to the advantages of video analytics, Ramsey believes that trend analysis, data mapping/mining and voice will play greater roles. For integrators, security video in public places calls for a keen understanding of how to place cameras, good lines of sight, and an ability to work with others not routinely involved in corporate projects.

At the heart of security video in public places, of course, is the camera. Smaller camera packages, IP video and HD cameras all lend themselves to the application.

Fredrik Nilsson, general manager, Americas, for Axis Communications, emphasizes image quality for these applications. He noted that it’s important to read a license plate of a certain car. Flexibility and scalability are also essential.

When city and suburban office building management seeks security video for their public places – plazas, lobbies, for instance – it is usually private property but with the expectation of employees and visitors that they are in public-accessible spaces. Robert Messemer, chief security officer with The Nielsen Company, said, “Security video at key facilities has not only increased employee safety, but also served to reduce labor costs by eliminating time-wasting, unproductive activities previously conducted by our uniformed officers.

“In assessing the merits of a new video system, we start with the end in mind,” Messemer said. “What exactly are we looking to accomplish? Deterrence or obtaining potential evidence? As your goals become clearer, so does the cost/benefit equation makes more sense.”

Messemer added, “In these uncertain economic times, do not overlook the importance of discreet and unobtrusive, cost-effective video systems deployed at key executive’s homes, too.”