HD surveillance in Alabama

Home to the largest historic district in the State of Alabama, the City of Selma is the regional retail, medical, employment and cultural center for more than 80,000 people. A progressive community that is proud of its history and excited about its future, the city is dedicated to providing the amenities, services and programs required to create a comfortable and thriving community in which to live and work.

Also committed to ensuring the safety of its residents, businesses, and visitors, the City of Selma has deployed the Avigilon HD Surveillance System at its City Hall, Selma Police Department (SPD) and Selma Housing Authority (SHA) in the first phase of its plan to improve public safety and reduce criminal activity across the region.

"Community safety is our primary goal and we are committed to doing whatever is required to help us make our city a safer place to live, work and visit," says Mayor George Patrick Evans.

In the past, the SDP responded to countless reports of criminal activity and civil disobedience from parts of the city, including at the SHA George Washington Carver (GWC) complex. After a preliminary review of the city's security environment, city officials realized that more could be done to improve community safety. "By deploying the surveillance system at police headquarters and GWC, we have taken the first steps in boosting safety and reducing criminal activity in our community," Evans says.

With the assistance of Blackbelt Technologies, a local telecommunications, security and management services firm, the City of Selma began to look for a surveillance solution that was robust, easy to operate, scalable and could easily integrate with the SPD's existing analog cameras for improved performance and cost savings. "As a budget-driven organization, we did not want to get locked into a closed, proprietary system that would lead to costly upgrades as we continue to expand," says William Riley, Chief of Police.

Blackbelt recommended the Avigilon system, which officers and administrators at the SPD and SHA seamlessly manage using the supplier's Control Center network video management software (NVMS) with HD Stream Management.

To date, the City has installed more than 30 HD cameras ranging from three to five megapixels to monitor the exterior of GWC, a 215-apartment complex with more than 500 tenants, and at police headquarters to monitor the parking lot, main lobby, booking rooms, holding cells, Magistrate's Office and Selma Municipal Court.

The SPD installed several analog video encoders to create a hybrid surveillance system that dramatically and cost-effectively improves the performance of its existing analog cameras. The city has also installed an HD camera to monitor activity at the Mayor's Office at City Hall.

Storing up to 45 days of continuous surveillance video, the surveillance system is monitored around-the-clock at both the SPD and GWC complex.

SPD headquarters is a very busy facility, managing the daily police work for the region and housing the Magistrate's Office, the Selma Municipal Court, and the City's parole and fine department. With such a high level of activity, ensuring staff and visitor safety was critical.

"We had an analog-based surveillance system that could not deliver the image clarity needed or scale to meet our growing needs, but we didn't have unlimited funds to replace the system," Wiley says. "The system has enabled us to build a hybrid system that leverages our existing cameras for cost-savings and major performance gains and will facilitate our migration to full high definition surveillance in the future."

City-Wide Surveillance for Greater Protection

With no previous surveillance system at GWC, residents now feel much safer in their neighborhood knowing that activity is being monitored at all times by staff at both the SPD and GWC.

With a city-wide HD surveillance system connecting the two organizations, the City of Selma can ensure greater coverage and overall protection across the municipality. "Now, if the SPD receives a report from GWC, officers can review the surveillance footage in real-time to determine what resources are needed before dispatching an officer," says Lola Rogers, SHA director. "The result is faster and more effective crime management and prevention."

The city has been impressed with the day/night image clarity and zooming capabilities of the surveillance system. "We can see minute detail - including license plate numbers - from more than 100 feet."

According to Wiley and Rogers, the surveillance system is user-friendly, making it easy to achieve maximum results. "We simply have to click and point to operate the system and find what we are looking for, and switching from camera to camera is straightforward," Rogers says.

Adds Wiley: "Investigators love using the system to track an incident onsite or at GWC. If we get a report from GWC or the surrounding area, the first thing we do now is check the footage." The SPD rarely reviewed surveillance footage for investigative purposes previously because it was not reliable - one month it would be operational, and the next it would be down.

Because the system is so much easier to manage, maintenance costs have also been reduced. "If our former system failed, we would have to send the old CPU out for maintenance, so we would often be without the system for weeks," Wiley says.

Large Drop in Criminal Activity

"GWC tenants know that they are being monitored, so criminal activity has declined since we installed the system," says Rogers, who tracks criminal activity at GWC by the number of reports she receives each week from the SPD. "Before installing the system, we would receive 40 reports each week. Now, we are down to less than 10 a week - a 75 percent drop in criminal activity."

In addition, SPD officers and staff feel much more secure at work since the new system was deployed. "Anxiety levels have dropped, especially on court day when traffic increases, because staff know that we can easily capture and review footage if an incident does occur," Wiley says.

Looking ahead, the City will develop new resources and build new facilities to further enrich the living and tourist experience.

"We plan to deploy the surveillance system in all public places, including our new waterfront park, walking trails, downtown and our schools to better protect and secure our entire community," Wiley says. The SPD is also rolling out a mobile computing platform to its 54 officers that will give them access to surveillance footage on laptops from any location.

City of Selma residents and visitors alike understand and appreciate the effort the City has made to preserve their safety.

"We can't eliminate the criminal element entirely," Evans says. "But [now] we have the tools to accurately identify suspects and successfully convict them, reducing crime and ultimately preventing the risk of repeat offences for better overall community protection."