With nearly four million residents and a steady stream of tourists to protect, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) faces countless security challenges on any given day. The LAPD’s Major Crimes Division, Technical Support Unit (Tech Squad) is tasked with a myriad of duties, ranging from providing situational awareness video for major events like the Emmys, Grammys and Lakers and Kings victory parades, to gathering intelligence for classified investigations and securing city-wide protests.
With L.A. hosting some of the entertainment and sports industries’ most high-profile events, the Unit plays an integral role in ensuring the safety of those involved by providing situational awareness through video. The Unit may also be asked to provide video at a moment’s notice on criminal cases involving homicides or other exigent matters.
We encounter many unique challenges and rely heavily on the best in IP video surveillance running on a wireless mesh network to protect the people, our officers and the city of L.A.
The Counter Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau previously used an analog system, which was cumbersome and limiting. Investigators wanted IP video, which would enable them to view video at their desks over the network rather than sit in a car with a microwave receiver. And of course, the video would be in high-definition. Cameras from three separate vendors proved unreliable during testing. Fortunately, IP video quality, reliability and functionality were met when we selected cameras from Axis Communications. The Tech Squad has deployed IP cameras from Axis for use throughout the city, including PTZ functionality and fixed video for covert applications.
With this system, personnel resources are not expended on determining situational awareness, but can focus instead on the direct mission at hand while the video network does its job. Video can also be used in place of live officers to gather intelligence in overt or dangerous situations.
Managing Cellular Bandwidth: How to Create a Working Solution
In 2009 and 2010, the Unit attempted to provide situational awareness video for the Los Angeles Lakers NBA championship victory parade. The video was powered over existing cellular networks within Metro L.A. In 2009, the Tech Squad found that the hundreds of thousands of spectators who jammed the parade route were also jamming the cellular network. The cameras installed along the parade route were slowed to a frame rate that was akin to watching grass grow, making the video feeds basically useless due to the massive network saturation.
A new way to circumvent this problem was needed for the good of the city and our officers.
In early 2009, two Tech Squad members attended a lengthy electronics course sponsored by the U.S. Navy’s Special Operations Command in Virginia Beach, Va., where they were exposed to some of the latest technologies in surveillance, video and communications. One of those technologies was a system of IP radios that established a mesh network that would stream data throughout an area over a singular, independent system.
The Navy’s Special Ops Command endorsed this particular system, made by Cobham of the U.K., as the most dependable it had tested. When the Tech Squad members returned from the training, they immediately pushed the acquisition of the system to the Department, but were met with multiple roadblocks: the most sizable being that an effective system costs more than $150,000.
Additional means of circumventing the bandwidth issue of the cellular network were explored, such as acquiring new HDTV-quality PTZ cameras in the hope that the H.264 compression technology would reduce the strain on the cellular network by requiring less bandwidth. The Unit found that the cameras alone were not enough to overcome the clutter over the cellular network at larger events.