Wireless Mesh to the Rescue

Muggings, home break-ins, armed robberies, drug deals and even medical emergencies have been caught on the Bethlehem, Pa. Police Department’s wireless video surveillance system since it was first deployed in September 2009.

Bethlehem has had numerous success stories in reducing crime while challenged with shrinking budgets and police personnel. The ability to use a wireless camera network at all locations has increased police awareness to levels it has never previously had. The system has enabled police to identify criminals, recover stolen cars, bust drug dealers and users, crack long-standing investigations and save at least one person during a medical emergency.

Deployed by Let’s Think Wireless LLC, the system uses Firetide Inc.’s wireless infrastructure mesh equipment and Bosch pan-tilt-zoom cameras that are monitored in real-time at all times by police officials. “Not even two years since the first wireless system was deployed and, to our surprise, we have had so many successes,” Bethlehem Police Commissioner Stuart Bedics says. “The wireless mesh network gives us coverage and access to areas where we don’t have a police presence. It also provides us extra set of eyes to back up police when they are citing violations or conducting an investigation.”

The Bethlehem Police Department was founded in 1907 and employs 200 officers to protect the Bethlehem community. Police officials chose the wireless infrastructure mesh system over a fiber-based one because it is less costly and gives them the flexibility to move and place cameras as needed. Fifty surveillance cameras connected to 48 Firetide nodes have been placed in parks, high-crime areas and on the three bridges of the city. The cameras can be moved and repositioned as the city’s public safety requirements change. Additionally, the wireless network has been integrated with Lehigh University’s 13-camera wired video surveillance system, extending the police’s view into the campus.

The primary viewing station is the 9-1-1 dispatch center, where one of five dispatchers monitors the cameras at all times on an enterprise-level video management system (VMS) from Genetec. Dispatch now can communicate an event by radioing to the vehicle responding while using the cameras to make them aware of the event in full detail prior to their arrival.The watch commander, vice and narcotic officers, commissioner and Lehigh University officials also have access to the camera feeds. In addition, in one of Bethlehem’s parks, the dispatchers are aided by Object Video’s analytics software to protect a children’s water park and public pool.The analytics software works in conjunction with two cameras to detect people entering the facility after hours and alert the police.

“The flexibility, performance and advanced features of the wireless mesh infrastructure are outstanding for sending and receiving video from multiple places all at once,” says Mickey Branson, senior director of national sales for Let’s Think Wireless.

The network has mushroomed from a pilot in two Elm Street parks in September 2009 to the now 50-camera wireless network in high-crime areas in the South Side, in the new community art center and the multiple parks of the annual Musikfest site, among other locations. Funding comes from a combination of City of Bethlehem’s budget and local sponsors such as the Elm Street Association, the Lehigh Transportation Authority for its parking garages and the non-profit agency of the Musikfest.

Public awareness of the cameras and monitoring has translated into lower crime rates in the areas where they are deployed, and dispatch and response times have been improved. The city dispatcher can be aware of events long before any resident calls in and send response long before they could otherwise. Not only can they send response quicker but they can tell responding personnel of the current situation in full detail and how to approach the scene from the safest route.

While most of the success stories are real-time apprehensions of criminals by police alerted to an incident by a dispatcher, many are also after-the-fact apprehensions coming from reviewing video recordings that are stored for up to 30 days. For example, one recording helped police identify a car thief when in review the video showed the suspect parking a stolen car.

Today, municipalities do not have unlimited budgets, nor easy access to grants. They must rely more on grassroots efforts for funding and prove their success before expansion. “Bethlehem is an example of the performance and flexibility of a video surveillance system required by law enforcement. The project also shows that public safety video surveillance is an excellent investment, especially in today’s environment of strained municipal budgets,” says Bo Larsson, CEO of Firetide. “Wireless greatly speeds projects and reduces infrastructure costs, especially in city environments where it would be cost-prohibitive and disruptive to dig up sidewalks and close streets for construction.”