VMS in Action: Technology Enhances Law Enforcement in Boca Raton

May 15, 2013
Police are able to manage and analyze video from daily operations to special events like the third Presidential Debate

With more than 200 cameras, license plate recognition and dashboard cameras in patrol cars, to say the Boca Raton, Fla., police have a lot of video to sift through is an understatement; however, thanks to a robust Video Management System (VMS), the city and the police have harnessed video surveillance technology as a useful tool to empower effective law enforcement.

The Boca Raton Police Department has 193 sworn officers and is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement (CALEA). An affluent community in South Florida, Boca Raton has 29.1 square miles of total area and a population of 85,000. The city is home to two universities and several high-tech companies.

City officials have been thoughtful and deliberate in their deployment of video surveillance. “The city toured video deployments in other cities to glean lessons learned and tailor the project to mirror what works at other locales,” says Jim Burke, the police department's Director of Support Services. A quarterly meeting of stakeholders guides ongoing development of the evolving video system in Boca Raton. The meeting includes the IT Director, the department of municipal services, the police department and the city manager's office; and the relationship between the police department and the traffic engineering department is vital because the police use the traffic department's fiber-optic cabling to transmit video. “We try to get buy-in from everyone,” Burke says. “We have taken our time to vet the systems that work and to get the best bang for our buck.”

The backbone of the video management system is the Ocularis open-architecture video management platform from supplier OnSSI.

Emphasizing Simplicity and Redundancy

A fiber-optic network transports traffic video from more than 200 surveillance cameras positioned in parks and at traffic intersections, back to a police department communications center. Video systems also include license plate recognition (LPR) cameras and an in-vehicle video system in the patrol cars, from which video is uploaded when vehicles return to the department. Some legacy analog equipment is also still up and running in some locations.

For video surveillance, the police department is looking to standardize on cameras from suppliers including Axis, Panasonic, Sony and Pelco, in order to minimize the need for resources to repair or replace cameras. Currently the majority of cameras are Axis fixed and PTZ models. There are also 19 1080p PTZ cameras in Mizner Park, an upscale downtown area that includes an amphitheater that holds up to 5,000 people.

System redundancy includes local video servers at each location, recording on-site and providing video to be monitored at the police department's administration server located in the department's IT room. Localized video recording is at 15 to 30 frames per second (fps), depending on the location. Michael Falcone, whose job is to support the video and communications systems for the police department, can access video from anywhere on the system from his central location. Police officers who need to view video from a certain area at a certain time contact Falcone with a formal request to view the video, which he provides.

A Firetide wireless mesh network enables the video system to expand beyond the reach of the fiber-optic network. Currently there are about 10 active wireless nodes and about eight left to install, paid for by a grant received four years ago.

Getting Private Sector Buy-in

Video surveillance is a city project in Boca Raton, but the police department is looking to expand the program to include participation by neighborhoods and businesses within the next two years. Expansion of the initiative depends on available resources, given that the police department is a medium-sized agency doing everything in-house, Burke says. Consultants and dealer-installers have been hired at various points using a competitive bid process, but the general maintenance of the system is done in-house to save costs.

The Ocularis VMS was installed based on a competitive bid. “I manage the system at the main server,” Falcone says. “I can make a change once and it goes out to all the servers in the field. Ocularis brings it all back into one platform — if I add a new site, it becomes part of my main system.”

The city also uses VidSys physical security information management (PSIM) software.

Boca Raton in the Headlines

The final Presidential Debate of the 2012 election season was held at Lynn University in Boca Raton, and the VMS system enabled the city to expand its video surveillance to provide coverage of locations and events surrounding the debate. Nearly 10 additional cameras were placed in the area of Lynn University, including cameras on roofs to provide a perimeter view. The system also tied in traffic cameras.

Boca Raton PD partnered with Miami-Dade FD/PD and used Miami's Command Center Bus to monitor activity during the Presidential Debate, coordinating the effort with the U.S. Secret Service, lead security agency for the event. The Command Center Bus was positioned at a high school near the university, which was a staging area for law enforcement and near enough to respond quickly if anything happened. Fortunately, there were no incidents. The cameras in Mizner Park were also useful to monitor a “Rock the Vote” event held during the debate.

Boca Raton police knew a year ahead about the coming presidential debate, and preparation accelerated about two months before the event. OnSSI provided temporary licenses to enable cameras to be brought online quickly at remote locations. The system enabled law enforcement officials to easily set up and manage large numbers of cameras from centralized, remote and mobile monitoring locations.

Investigations Made Easy

The police use the VMS to view a vehicle based on a description. Investigative tools such as time-slice thumbnails, smart search motion detection and a kinetic movement timeline make it easy to locate the needed video. “The client software lets us narrow down the timeframe, and skip to the next area where there is activity,” Falcone says. “We can easily locate events that happen without looking at hours of video.”

Currently, Boca Raton PD uses video mostly for forensic investigations, although the department is working toward real-time crime analysis, including accessing camera feeds to view what is happening based on radio calls in dispatch; however, full real-time operation is a couple of years away, Burke says.

As the two people driving the camera initiative in Boca Raton, Burke and Falcone get calls every day asking for more cameras. The system could easily increase to 500 cameras in two years, Burke says. “It's just a monumental project for a medium-sized city to take on.”

Looking to the future, the system will transition to a new Public Safety Information Management Center, which is scheduled to open within two years and will include a video wall. As the system grows, the VMS can manage video feeds from a virtually unlimited number of cameras. It supports multiple-network operation, both wired and wireless, and will allow Boca Raton to extend the reach of the system to access live views and recorded video throughout the city.

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Editorial and news reports authored by the media team from Cygnus Security Media, including SecurityInfoWatch.com, Security Technology Executive magazine and Security Dealer & Integrator (SD&I) magazine.