Bellwood Cleans Up with IP Video

Oct. 27, 2008
An Illinois suburb reduces crime and enhances response with a community-wide wireless IP surveillance system

In April 2005, the village of Bellwood , IL, accelerated on a new road to security and safety using wireless technology and IP video surveillance.

This Chicago suburb of more than 20,500 citizens borders other communities with high crime that threatened to spill over. Gang activities, guns, drugs, robberies, even murder endangered Bellwood citizens and the police who work to protect them. Bellwood employs 60 sworn officers, and they were receiving 28,000 emergency calls to 9-1-1 each year.

To help stop the spread of crime into the community, systems integrator Current Technologies Corporation (CTC), a Certified Milestone Partner and Cisco Premium Partner, has installed a variety of wireless technologies to reach into neighborhoods and completely cover the town with a pure IP video surveillance solution, using a mix of network cameras from Sony, Axis, JVC and IPIX. Milestone XProtect Enterprise software manages the video.

Not Shifting Crime; Eradicating It

“Bellwood came to us and said: ‘We want to be associated with the Western suburbs of Chicago that are nice and crime-free, and we believe this is the way to get there.' Roy McCampbell, the comptroller and CFO at the Village of Bellwood , and Mayor (Frank) Pasquale are very committed to making a difference, changing the image of the town, cleaning up crime. Our wireless IP surveillance solution is their main tool,” said Steve Daugherty, president of CTC.

What started as 21 surveillance cameras quickly grew to more than 40 in the risk areas identified by police: the village perimeter, major parkways, public gathering places, and higher-crime locations. Many other installations are in progress towards an initial goal of more than 60 cameras, including those inside the police building. The plan is to have surveillance spread throughout the community.

“If cameras are only set up on the east border of the village, where there's more tendency for crime, it could have the effect of pushing the crime around and moving it further into Bellwood . But the goal is to get rid of the crime, so the entire city is going to be well monitored,” explained Daugherty.

A Force Multiplier

The police cars in the force are equipped with monitors and keyboards that are wirelessly connected to the surveillance system for mobile capacity and instant overview of multiple locations.

“They see the surveillance as a force multiplier, increasing the capabilities of their police officers by giving them many additional virtual eyes and ears monitoring the neighborhoods. An officer can physically be in one location and see what is going on in the bordering areas at the same time,” said Daugherty.

The radio dispatch personnel who handle 9-1-1 emergency calls also monitor the village's new cameras like a central control room, identifying situations as they develop. This allows them to be proactive, defusing incidents before they escalate and responding more quickly to dangerous situations.

“Just yesterday there was a pretty bad accident at a busy intersection that the radio room could clearly see. They zoomed in to determine that two cars were involved and really smashed up. They immediately called the ambulances and tow trucks, ensuring the right emergency response very quickly,” explained McCampbell. “With this surveillance, they are able to stay ahead of what's going on and assess situations better.”

Clearly Identifying Criminals

CTC installed its first prototype of the wireless IP surveillance solution in the higher-crime area of Maywood , bordering on Bellwood . One of the most dangerous locations there is a crack house inhabited by a notorious gang, who threatened the CTC employee installing a camera nearby.

CTC customized this system, implementing covert cameras as well as traditional ones. A grey utility box installed on a light pole hides a camera in one location, according to Chris Moomey, account manager at CTC.

In Bellwood , the network cameras with pan/tilt/zoom functionality provide coverage of wider areas, with excellent clarity and recognition of people, license plates and other details, even from far away.

“At midnight one night, I was at the Police Department watching the cameras from 19th and St. Charles . Through the glass door of a store in the 2100 block of St. Charles, we could identify the face of a wanted suspect two blocks away—that's how clear the camera images are!” said Daugherty.

Wireless High-Speed Connections

The wireless equipment is set up on several very tall towers throughout the area, one next to the central Police Department, another atop a building that houses a bank and university, another on top of the Bellwood water tower. Satellite dishes and antennae send and receive the signals, connecting the Milestone IP video surveillance system with the cameras.

“The cameras are installed on poles and buildings with power transformers and wireless access points with antennae that communicate with the wireless bridges on the towers,” explained Moomey.

“The tower on the bank building has a satellite dish on it sending to a very high-speed wireless connection back at the police department tower, so the cameras in the bank building can be recorded there on the main system server. We're also going to use the bank tower to create a hot spot so we can send the wireless connectivity up and down Mannheim Road (the main thoroughfare), allowing us to put more cameras along there,” said Daugherty.

“We're working on lots of ideas together with CTC to come up with the best surveillance, including undercover cop cars that can go in with a roving camera to check out a situation before making an arrest,” added McCampbell. “With cameras in the squad cars, the mobility of the solution with remote access is really beneficial.”

Efficiency in Management

The IP-based software for managing the video images is Milestone XProtect Enterprise (XPE). XPE allows scheduling and automatic patrolling of the PTZ cameras. The software's database is set to archive the images for a month and then export them onto DVD archives for ready access by the state prosecutor or attorneys for the defense in court proceedings, who can subpoena the evidence.

The central system is installed on a server at the main police department. In addition, a video server converts to digital the video streams from some older analog cameras, which will eventually be replaced by color and/or network cameras. This re-use of old cameras ensures a better return on previous security investments. In the police department radio dispatch room, two huge Sony flat-screen monitors are set up next to some regular monitors, viewing images from the cameras around the community and inside the police facilities.

Mixing Hardware for Best Solution

“We use a lot of different wireless products to achieve the harmony of the system and depending on the terrain. It's the same thing we do with the cameras, choosing different models and manufacturers to suit the needs of each situation. You have to have a mixture of products when designing a really good surveillance solution,” said Daugherty. “Thanks to Milestone's flexibility we've had the luxury of testing our system with a multitude of cameras.”

The independence of the Milestone software platform is central to CTC's customized approach. The system supports the widest choice of network video hardware from the largest number of manufacturers.

“There's a big difference between a camera installation and a pure IP surveillance solution. Installers using the old analog stuff, VCRs and even DVRs, are at a major disadvantage compared to a company like ours if they are trying to get into the IP approach, because we have worked for over a decade with network implementations and really understand the IT technology. If a customer has multiple locations, it doesn't matter to us where they are—our job is to connect them together. We're network guys and we know how to move data, wired or wireless, whether the data is video images or otherwise,” said Moomey.

In addition to the current cameras, CTC plans to put up new network cameras as they become feasible, including some cameras with full 360-degree viewing capabilities and PTZ—and the Milestone software allows a quad view of all angles at once. Each hardware option gives different functionality for the town's security needs.

Regional Approach for Better Homeland Security

“We're encouraging other towns in the region to also get onto the network approach. We're going to be moving to a regional communications center for all our police and emergency response services based in the nearby town of Leyden , anyway, so the more we can standardize our platform, the better we can coordinate and respond. Also, when applying for homeland security funds, they prefer a regional approach for better efficiency and effectiveness,” said McCampbell. “There are no borders when it comes to crime. We will give access to our cameras to the neighboring towns, swapping access to their towers for more camera feed around their facilities, adding them around building exteriors, schools, water works, whatever. It's a win-win situation for everyone.”

The Bellwood and Melrose metro stations are going to be combined in the near future. An architectural and construction firm is already working on the design for the station, which could be a proving ground for more advanced technologies like license plate ID recognition, sniffing equipment, and bomb detection—all coupled with the Milestone surveillance system.

“We're also going to deploy some dedicated fixed cameras around the city to show on the official Bellwood public Web site, and on big LCD monitors in the municipality's public building,” added Daugherty. “Privacy is not the issue here. Residents are thanking us, saying ‘What good is my privacy if I can't walk out of my house without getting shot? The gangs don't leave us any privacy, so we'd rather have the police taking care of it with surveillance.'”

Growth and Appreciation

The October 2005 issue of Chicago magazine published a lead article titled ”How Healthy Is Your Town?“ that diagnosed the well-being of 191 Illinois suburbs and featured Bellwood as one of 10 communities to be watched over the coming year. The article made special note of the surveillance project, telling miscreants to beware. McCampbell wants to get the word out as well. “We want people to get the message: If you try to commit crimes in Bellwood , we will see you and we will catch you.”

Bellwood continues to grow, with 19 acres just approved for further development. McCampbell plans to include the surveillance network in the new construction to facilitate the eventual coverage of the entire town.

The mayor and police spearheading public safety through the use of leading-edge technology is a movement that the good citizens themselves are enthusiastically supporting. Daugherty reports that a number of residents have contacted both CTC and the PD with offers to donate their own money for the purchase of additional cameras—in return for adding their properties to the growing security network.

Courtney Dillon-Pedersen is communications manager for Milestone Systems.