City of College Park Uses Innovative Tools to Fight Crime

In 2009, College Park had the highest crime rate in metro Atlanta. As a captain with the College Park Police Department and now as Interim Chief of Police, this was unacceptable to me. Reversing that statistic would require innovative crime-fighting tools that delivered results and maximized personnel for a minimum investment. As Interim Chief, I want to supply our officers with as much information as possible to help them make the most informed decisions they can when on patrol.

Bolstered by support from city officials who shared our vision for a safer College Park, the police department developed a long-term strategy which involved city-wide video surveillance. This included updating patrol laptops and departmental access to our network and a program for participation with the community.

The Scope

With a population of about 20,000 residents, the city of College Park covers 10-square miles and is located south of Georgia's capitol. In addition to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the city is home to the world's only convention center connected to a major airport. It also serves as headquarters to the Chick-Fil-A fast food chain as well as Woodward Academy, the largest independent school in the country. Easy access to rapid transit and major interstates has helped College Park cement its reputation as "Georgia's Global City."

College Park partnered with Iron Sky to design and deploy a city-wide video surveillance solution. This phased solution approach would enable any authorized users to view and control any camera at any location from any computer on the city's LAN/WAN. To maximize resources, the police department also needed a solution that was extremely easy to use so that officers could quickly implement the new crime-fighting tools and get the job done.

Iron Sky was selected as the city's vendor because of its extensive wireless expertise and its vast experience working exclusively with law enforcement agencies across the country. The city did not have an existing fiber optic infrastructure to leverage for transmitting camera images back to the police department; therefore, the use of wireless technologies would be critical to the success of the project. Based on the city's requirements, Iron Sky developed a six-phase solution that would install cameras around the city, implement a wireless infrastructure, establish a command center and integrate existing cameras from key private entities throughout the city.

The Deployment

We have completed the first three phases of the plan and have deployed eighteen cameras including Axis Communications Pan/Tilt/Zoom and megapixel cameras that enable officers to monitor high-crime and high-volume entrance/egress points in key areas along Main Street, Old National Highway and Camp Creek Parkway. We selected cameras from Axis based on Iron Sky's recommendation and our own research.

Existing analog cameras in City Hall were also integrated into the system. To provide connectivity, Iron Sky utilized wireless mesh and point-to-point radios from ClearSite Communications Inc., and Ubiquity Networks, to transmit camera images from points around the city to a communications tower on top of the College Park public safety antenna, which is adjacent to the College Park Police Department. Since we do not have the personnel to monitor the cameras at all times, the camera images are recorded using H.264 compression and archived for 30 days a year on a Dell 26-terabyte COTS server and storage solution that can be easily expanded as more cameras are brought online.

Even with the high resolution of the megapixel cameras, Iron Sky was able to deploy wireless equipment that could handle the transmission of large video files flawlessly - even when passing through multiple wireless radios. Wireless mesh and backhaul solutions were employed to achieve the necessary throughput levels at each location using nearly all available frequency ranges for maximum uninterrupted bandwidth.

The Video Management System

Iron Sky's video management software was specifically designed for law enforcement and is an excellent fit for our long-term goals. It uses Google Maps as the interface for camera management and navigation which offers several advantages over other VMS products that we evaluated. Since all our officers already use Google Maps, there has been no formal training required to use the Iron Sky software and officers have adopted the technology instantly. Users simply pull up the Iron Sky Web page from any computer at their desks, at Dispatch, or from mobile data terminals in their patrol cars. Once the Web page is loaded, users find the camera location on the map and can view both live and recorded images. All aspects of camera navigation, camera control, live view, recordings and search are accessed from a single Web page. Officers simply select the desired camera from its position on Google Maps and use all functionality without ever having to navigate away from the page.

Moments after one officer was given access to the Iron Sky software for the first time, he was able to identify two known prostitutes working a gas station and quickly dispatched officers to the location. This sent a strong message to the community that the College Park Police Department was going to use the cameras to its fullest extent to reduce crime.

Another significant benefit of using Google Maps is that users can tie other devices and data into the camera system which makes it an even more compelling solution. It is my vision that we will unify all our safety, security and operational applications into the Iron Sky VMS to establish a single platform that allows us to get the right information to the right person at the right time so they can make the right decision.

As the network expands, Iron Sky's Web-based application allows us to grant camera viewing access to other departments in the city as well as grant instant access to county, state and federal agencies in response to an incident. This can be done by simply giving users IP addresses, user names and passwords.

Controlling Costs

We were able to keep the total cost of ownership of the project to a minimum by using our electrical utility company, College Park Power, to perform the physical installation of cameras and wireless equipment. Managing this project required diligent and frequent coordination between the police department, College Park Power Company and Iron Sky's project management staff.

This project needed to be implemented quickly and Iron Sky took on the brunt of the project management duties. Iron Sky has developed a robust delivery methodology from years of working with municipal agencies that allowed it to manage the entire process in a very short amount of time, eliminating issues that typically arise when multiple parties are involved in a single installation. Project managers met regularly with key stakeholders from the police department, city council and local businesses to keep them apprised of the project's progress. Iron Sky's project management staff also gathered information from the client necessary for the staging and configuration of the equipment and provided training and installation manuals to the relevant installation crews prior to the equipment being delivered. The high level of coordination was necessary to provide everyone with the tools to complete their specific tasks.

The result was a project that was on time and on budget.

Force multiplier

College Park police made three arrests within the first four hours of going live with the street-level video surveillance system. "Everything is recorded," Deputy Chief Tom Kuzniacki says. "We can save the recordings and then pinpoint the location. This cuts down a lot on our investigative hours."

Officers are excited about the new technology and its ease of use, facilitated by a simple click of the mouse to gain detailed video footage. High-quality camera images serve as performance management tools for the police department as it works to allocate resources strategically. Early success has also helped College Park build its network of community support.

"If we can send the message to the criminal element to take it someplace else, that is exactly what we want to do," says Don Winbush, president of the Old National Merchant's Association. He plans to facilitate expansion of the camera system beyond College Park city limits into unincorporated Fulton County.

"It's a great sense of relief knowing police are constantly monitoring the city and can see a good range with the camera," adds Virgil Hickmon, general manager of the Wyndham Garden Hotel, which authorized the city to gain a 360-degree view of Old National Highway using a camera on the hotel roof. "I love seeing the camera. It makes me feel good when I drive into work."

Atlanta news outlets have also helped spread the message that College Park has adopted new tools to fight crime. The metro Atlanta CBS affiliate has covered College Park's launch extensively online and during televised news reports.

"The enthusiasm of this project has been tremendous. I am very encouraged by the unique applications College Park plans to implement in the coming months," Iron Sky General Manager Bob Carter says. "This is a great fit between Iron Sky's resources and College Park's vision for the future."

With its vast web of surveillance tools, College Park has added a new dimension to its role as "Georgia's Global City" and proudly leads the state in the implementation of next-generation solutions to fight crime. Over time, the system will connect with cameras located in metro Atlanta, as well as other neighboring areas.

Ron Fears is Interim Chief of Police for the City of College Park, Georgia.