The Dallas (Texas) Police Department started using CCTV cameras in its downtown for the first time about a year ago. Funding for the cameras was obtained through private grants, with the city committed to using sworn officers (retired and less-than-full-duty) to monitor the systems. From January to early December 2007, personnel monitoring the footage asked field officers 559 times to look further into events seen on camera. And, as a result, 159 arrests were made.
Overall, the greatest benefit of CCTV for the Dallas PD has been the ability to maximize resources.
"One camera operator can cover a lot more area than field officers can," Deputy Chief Brian Harvey says, noting the system can provide useable images of license plates at 300 yards.
Two Dallas PD officers monitor the cameras 24/7, with one looking at the 40 cameras set up downtown and the other viewing footage from seven cameras set up in a densely populated, mixed-use area.
Dallas' wireless video cameras (along with mesh network nodes and backbone links) were installed on streetlight poles.
Cameras are advertised on street-level signs, and the police department's badge helps identify the white boxes containing the cameras.
"These are overt cameras," Harvey says. "We want people to know they are there."
When CCTV monitoring personnel working within the communications division spot something suspicious on camera, they can lean over to a dispatcher and request that an officer be dispatched to a specific location. Once an officer arrives, the person monitoring the camera uses a radio and starts talking directly to the field officer.
Every camera has a geo-coded radius. If an offense occurs within that radius, investigators immediately want to know if any usable information was caught on video.
Each morning, the crime analysis unit gathers the geo information and it is put into a shared computer where a communications supervisor will review the data.
"If we see an offense, we want to pull out the appropriate footage, archive it and notify the follow-up investigative unit," he says. If an offense caught on video, was not originally detected by monitoring personnel, the department looks to see if the camera monitoring process can be improved.
To make room for more video storage, information is purged every two weeks. Officers must find and archive any useable information within that time.
Having had a positive experience with cameras their first year, the Dallas PD is looking to add more cameras. Downtown businesses have expressed interest in funding additional cameras, Harvey says. Hiking and biking trails as well as large athletic and entertainment venues are being looked at as other possible locations to add cameras.
Decisions made upfront can prevent agencies from wasting money on a system that doesn't meet their needs. When looking at new CCTV surveillance systems, consider the following:
Focus on quality
In Preston, Maryland, (population about 550) six cameras were purchased with grant money before Robert Reed became police chief in February 2007. These older model cameras are used to monitor a busy traffic intersection, and Reed says he wishes they were more sophisticated. "You really have to be careful when you buy a system," he says. "Paying a little extra for the system will be well worth it when you're trying to solve a crime."
Reed suggests agencies prioritize clear pictures, good zooming and easy searching.
Newer isn't always better
Some of the newest technologies may not be a good fit for a given set of needs, says Frank Abram, vice president and general manager, SANYO Security Products Division. "It's best to carefully evaluate the technologies available — or already deployed — to see how they can be optimized or replaced, if necessary, with systems offering greater functionality," he says. "There are numerous instances where legacy systems can be updated with newer technologies to deliver added functionality."
Don't be afraid of IP
A number of misconceptions surround IP-based solutions, says Mulli Diamant, vice president of sales, On-Net Surveillance Systems (OnSSI). First, is that they are more costly than other solutions; but Diamant says they are "extremely cost effective." Other misconceptions are that IP-based solutions are more difficult to implement or require more training to utilize, but he says those things are not true. Nor, he says, is it true that IP-based systems require more people to operate. In fact, he says the opposite is true.
Think about how and when video will be archived
One general misconception is that all recorded video surveillance data needs to be downloaded to DVDs for archiving, Abram points out. But, archiving data to DVD may not be required — depending on agency policy — especially if the video has no evidentiary value. When an agency needs to archive video on DVDs, there are digital recording solutions to make this convenient and easy, he says.
Realize there's a learning curve
Learning how to manipulate the cameras is not something that's instantaneous. Training is very important to maximize the benefits of a camera system, emphasizes Deputy Chief Brian Harvey of the Dallas (Texas) Police Department. For example, personnel monitoring cameras must know how to track an individual moving from the range of one camera to the next. It's also important for those monitoring the cameras to learn how to use the various software features. For example, it is helpful for personnel tasked with watching multiple images at once to know how to tell the software to give an alert when there is movement, such as a door opening to an historic building.
Everyone needs a good backbone
Anything without a good backbone suffers. Alan DeLoera, IT director for the City of Temple, Texas, says a proper network backbone ensures uninterrupted flow of video and data. Before purchasing new technology, Temple tested how many cameras they could put in a specific area and how they could get data in real time.
Prepare for the future
Sometimes when the goal is to install a new security camera system, there's no thought to adding other capabilities to a network or even adding more cameras later on. Gregg Levin, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for BridgeWave Communications, says that's not good. "Put in a high enough performance backbone that it will scale for future applications," he says. "Putting in extra capacity doesn't cost much. Starting over when you find out you need more gets expensive."
He offers examples: maybe police and fire departments want WiFi, area schools seek higher speed Internet connections, or the local library needs more connectivity.
"Think about designing a network with some of those other applications even if they are not done now," he says.
When there are good surprises, he points out a system is viewed as a success.