Case Study: Hands-on Security

Cheektowaga, N.Y., police incorporate biometrics for a real "hands-on" access solution

The police department of Cheektowaga, New York, is taking a "hands-on" approach to security. With new biometric fingerprint readers, officers control access and prisoners better than ever.

Nearly 100,000 people live in Cheektowaga, making it one of the largest towns in New York. Historically a prime hunting and fishing territory of Native Americans, modern Cheektowaga is a thriving suburb of Buffalo, and home to the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

Cheektowaga's police department is located in the heart of town, in a two-story building adjoining the town courthouse. The complex, built in 1965, features a shared area between the two buildings, with doors to both the courthouse and the police department. The police department also houses the cellblocks where prisoners are detained while awaiting their court appearances.

Access control at the facility had been largely unchanged for nearly two decades. Prior to 2005, there was no centralized access control system at the facility. The front door of the police department was locked all the time with an officer posted to allow entry. The department's two back doors, where officers enter and leave for the day, relied on cipher locks. The doors to the common area were controlled with standard locksets on both the department and courthouse sides.

In late 2005, the police department saw the opportunity for updating their facility's access control. They had recently worked with LINSTAR, Inc., of Buffalo, who had installed a system to securely produce officer and civilian ID cards. The department knew that LINSTAR provided integrated systems for schools, hospitals, corporations, and government entities, and they had confidence in LINSTAR's support capabilities. "We specialize in customized identity management and security programs," explains Mary Jo Cornell, LINSTAR president and CEO, "and our experience in integrated systems made us uniquely qualified to assist with this project."

LINSTAR and the department began to develop a solution for the Cheektowaga facility. Lt. Michael Isbrandt of the Cheektowaga Police Department describes the project's overall goal as "target hardening." The department had never had an intruder event or even the unauthorized return of a prior employee, but the threat was possible and they wanted to prevent it.

The main source of that threat was the old cipher locks on the back doors – and their equally old code numbers. According to Lt. Isbrandt, "we didn't have as much control as we would have liked over who had access to th e doors. There was a code…which probably hadn't changed in 15 years." Improving control of those doors was definitely a priority for the department.

The common area doors presented another issue for the team. Every day, prisoners are escorted from the police department to the courtroom by way of the common area. When passing through the common area doors, the escorting officers have to unlock the doors while still restraining the prisoners. This was not a minor nuisance; over 4,500 prisoners made this trip in 2005. Finding a more "hands-free" way to control access through the doors was a significant goal.

In the end, LINSTAR and the police department decided on biometric fingerprint readers as the solution for both issues. For the back door entries, the police department liked that they knew exactly who was entering the building. As Lt. Isbrandt put it, "you couldn't pass someone a code or a key; it was an undeniable fact that a certain officer had entered the building."

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