STE Security Innovation Awards Bronze Medal: Busting the Bandwidth Bind

The LAPD overcomes technical issues with streaming video surveillance for investigations and large-scale events


In maybe the most high-level deployment, the system was used to cover the perimeter of the Occupy L.A. encampment. As the protest began to wind down, one of the cameras captured a truck dropping off 30 to 40 sticks which could be used as long clubs. We knew that this potential weapon, if used against the officers, could have potentially escalated an already emotionally charged situation. Based on the video, several officers were dispatched and retrieved the majority of the sticks before they made it into the camp.

 

Perfecting a Futuristic System

We have stretched the range and tried several experiments with the radios/cameras. Each time, Axis and Cobham have both been extremely supportive and willing to assist at any and all hours. Steve Smith, regional sales manager from Axis, and Joseph Bonafede of Cobham have been literal lifesavers, providing not-easily-obtainable equipment and dedicated support in the deployment of the system.

Specifically, in April 2012, as the Unit prepared for May Day, two of the Axis cameras ‘burned out’ due to installation mistakes in wet weather. We contacted Smith and within two hours he provided two equivalent replacement cameras that were immediately plugged in to the system and worked flawlessly. Bonafede also assisted us numerous times with telephone and personal technical support despite being on the east coast. 

As the Tech Squad moves into 2013, the acquisition of more powerful, later-generation Cobham radio equipment is in the works. A stronger, dedicated “Infrastructure Radio” will be purchased that will serve to relay video more effectively from the cameras/radios to the command post at future events and viewed using the Axis Camera Station software. In addition, the IP radios’ ease of use has made it possible to inject an internet backhaul into the system to provide remote access over IP to the camera system.

Using portable Cradlepoint routing technology, it has been possible to introduce Sprint and Verizon Broadband data cards (USB Modems) with 4G technology into the system at any given point. The router/modem simply plugs into the network via RJ45 connection and is mounted in the same weatherproof enclosure.  After the cameras are port forwarded over the router, remote access over 4G LTE is a snap and increases the flexibility of the system.

In just three years, the Tech Squad has gone from microwave receivers in cars to a quickly deployable wireless video surveillance system. Before, the Tech Squad provided slow and unreliable video from one or two cellular-equipped cameras and was unable to contribute much; oftentimes placed at a corner table with a single laptop. Now, the unit’s video is center stage — projected on multiple big screens at command posts with department command staff relying heavily on the feeds for real-time situational awareness, crowd management and decision making. 

Despite all our success, the LAPD is still under large budgetary constraints, and procuring new technology is anything but simple. We are regularly tasked with fabricating support equipment, developing new system parameters and “throwing the switch” on new ideas entirely on our own. For example, the mounting systems for all the equipment mentioned here were developed entirely by the Unit, including installing the IP radios in bare enclosures along with bulkhead connectors and other “in-box” mounts for data and power, as well as developing, welding and fabricating mounts that allow the equipment to be installed on the sides of buildings.

The LAPD Major Crimes Division Technical Support Unit is in the unique position of making significant contributions to the Department and the city in terms of enhancing public safety through technology. The mobility of the entire system allows it to be installed virtually anywhere the crowd and security issues may arise. The Unit has also cemented its importance and relevance within the LAPD with its successful implementation of technology and we hope to continue to grow and improve the video surveillance and wireless mesh network system.

 

Richard Cowgill has been with the Los Angeles Police Department’s Technical Support Unit (Tech Squad) since 1990. He is tasked with utilizing the latest technologies to assist investigators with suspect apprehension and case clearance, while also providing situational awareness through technology for high-profile events in the city. Mr. Cowgill has a bachelor’s degree from UCLA. The primary objective of the LAPD Major Crimes Division is the prevention of significant disruptions of public order in the City of Los Angeles. Captain Steven S. Sambar is its Commanding Officer.