Eye on Crime

STE Security Innovation Award Silver Medalist: A rapidly growing IP surveillance project for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has become a model for other community surveillance systems


The entire surveillance system is managed by the Genetec Omnicast video management system (VMS), which is intuitive and intelligent. Ninety-five percent of our video use is initiated after-the-fact in forensic searches, and the Omnicast system makes finding specific archived footage an easy process. While we enable continuous recording, we do use motion detection to boost image resolution and frame rate, depending on the location and time. Multi-casting is configured to help manage overall bandwidth.

We have fully redundant storage in our own data centers using Pivot3 CloudBanks instead of having multiple DVRs sitting in dusty, hot closets throughout the agency. General policy dictates that video is saved for 30 days, but video files can be flagged to be retained longer if needed for an investigation...which was the case in our very first hour using the cameras.

 

Immediate Success

The Eye on Crime cameras were all linked so they could be remotely operated by our deputies at the Patrol District headquarters, enabling them to keep an eye on trouble spots, monitor streets for emergency situations and give residents a better feeling of safety. The cameras have pan/tilt/zoom performance and can monitor a 360-degree field of view. In addition, deputies are able to access the camera feeds from virtually anywhere via our IP network, allowing multiple cameras to be monitored simultaneously.

A great deal of thought went into the locations of the cameras by our team and SiteSecure; and we were rewarded for our efforts the very first day that the system went live.

As we turned on the first camera to test the point-to-point wireless link and measure bandwidth usage, one of the department’s detectives was on-site to check out the system. His keen eye spotted some kids loitering by a dumpster and he asked our operator, “How far can these cameras zoom in?” Without much hesitation, the detective took hold of the controls and confirmed his suspicion that a narcotics deal was going on right in the camera’s view. Within minutes, the department rolled an unmarked car to the scene and thwarted not only the drug deal, but caught a person with additional warrants out for his arrest. The video was even able to be used later for forensic evidence.

Within the first hour of hitting the ‘On’ switch, the cameras had already made our streets safer.

“Within days of installing the cameras, the crime rate began to drop in the three-mile area. We saw that as success from day one,” HCSO Major J.R. Burton told a local news program. “It’s not Big Brother watching. I see it as an investigative tool.”

The Eye on Crime camera project continues to be a major success thanks to open communication with the neighborhood residents, the versatility of IP technology and proper planning. From these great results, we knew that the rest of our county would benefit from IP surveillance.

 

Success Breeds More Success

Shortly after we planned the Eye on Crime project, we were faced with another interesting situation: the HCSO Information Services Bureau (ISD) inherited responsibility for the electronic security and surveillance systems at the county’s two jails, as well as the surveillance deployed at several other buildings around the county. Being a techno-savvy group, we immediately determined a need for a major systems upgrade. While researching our options, I quickly realized that we had already found a comprehensive, reliable system for Eye on Crime. Why not replicate the success for the rest of the agency?

These two success stories started a huge spiral of new surveillance technology implementation. From the 20 cameras we initially determined for community surveillance, another 330-plus cameras were installed in areas such as the courthouse, district offices, vehicle storage lots, interview rooms (with audio), the aviation facility, main operations center and warehouse facilities. These cameras can all be accessed from a central station for viewing and video storage and are controlled by Omnicast.

One common complaint of large surveillance systems is keeping track of all the different camera feeds. This is not only an important feature to enable operators to identify precisely where a potential crime or safety hazard is taking place, but also for routine and corrective maintenance. Our old analog systems used as many as 15 different camera models/manufacturers, teaching us that a standard and intuitive camera naming convention with a system map should be created so all users could easily and immediately identify specific cameras. Our operators and technicians were thrilled with this step because it eliminated much of the time spent searching for a failed device — in one instance we had technicians spend almost two hours trying to locate the camera that they needed to support.