Taking a byte out of crime
Thanks to a combination of mesh networks with fat data pipes, cost-effective video cameras capable of transmitting over IP networks and smart-camera technology, wireless video surveillance systems are changing the way governments protect their citizens and assets.
Moreover, the advent of wireless wide area networks in nearly every major U.S. city and mesh technology deployments in the 4.9 GHz band reserved for public safety mean more wireless video cameras are being used and are quickly making a dramatic impact on both crime and the use of police resources.
Indeed, jurisdictions around the country are reporting dramatic results from video surveillance made possible by wireless mesh systems. The throughput in mesh networks is rapidly increasing to enable real-time surveillance capabilities with quality good enough to identify license plates. At the same time, government entities are finding deployments justifiable.
“We’re seeing a lot of police departments that can’t hire staff fast enough or the community is growing too fast,” said Ksenia Coffman, marketing manager for Firetide. “Instead of deploying 30 officers, now two officers can monitor 30 cameras. There is a force-multiplier effect.”
In one of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods of Dallas, a wireless video mesh project — made possible by cooperation among community churches, businesses and the police department — could prove to be a viable model that reduces crime in some of America’s most troublesome areas.
The 62-block area that constitutes the Jubilee Park community in south Dallas has a history of poverty, violence and drugs. For instance, a nightclub that had been a hotbed for drug activity sat across the street from a kindergarten. Within the past year, 80% of residents reported being victimized, and according to Dallas police records, the area saw one homicide, two rapes, 13 assaults and 26 burglaries in 2006.
But on Sept. 13, 2007, the statistics began to change for the better. That’s when Dallas law enforcement began launching 14 remote-controlled, IP-based Sony cameras mounted on poles at intersections to provide 24-hour real-time surveillance of the area via a wireless mesh system built by system integrator BearCom and mesh infrastructure provider Firetide. Unlike a similar installation in downtown Dallas earlier in the year, this project came as a result of collaboration between the Dallas Police Department, which manages the system, and the Jubilee Park and Community Center (JPCC), a non-profit organization driving community redevelopment efforts.
“We’ve seen incredible results already,” said Tom Harbison, chair of the JPCC’s Anti-Crime Task Force. “Crime incidents went down 10%. We’re doing better than the city of Dallas itself.” In less than three months, the statistics are impressive: Officers had been dispatched 119 times as a result of footage captured by the camera system, resulting in 55 arrests. Of these, about 25% were narcotics-related.
Dallas police officers at City Hall monitor the live video feeds, but the community was responsible for the construction of the mesh network and installation of the video cameras. One-third of the $250,000 cost was covered by the South Dallas Development Fund, created years ago to improve commerce in the area, while the other two-thirds came from private donations, primarily via churches, raised by JPCC.
Dallas-area churches, in fact, have played a large role in the success of the surveillance system. Not only were they willing to put up the funds, but they also helped create the Jubilee Park Neighborhood Association and facilitated spreading the word to alleged and suspected criminals that cameras were going up.
“We went to the churches,” Harbison said. “Even bad guys go to church. We were very open about what we were doing and raising money. We told them where the cameras were going. Everyone knew where the bad spots were around the perimeter so they applauded this idea. It’s sad when you go to church, and it has an iron gate around it.”
An important aspect of deploying the wireless mesh surveillance system was educating the community to alleviate fears of “Big Brother” watching. JPCC representatives explained that the software in the wireless mesh system could black out certain scans, such as those passing over backyards. JPCC didn’t have to do much convincing — people welcomed the technology.
“I went to a parent/teacher meeting the other night and was literally mobbed by people thanking us and telling me they feel a lot safer,” Harbison said.
The JPCC already is working to raise additional funds to add 12 cameras to the network. Businesses now are stepping up to fund part of the camera costs, offer space on their facilities and pay utility costs. The effort has been so successful that Harbison now is receiving calls from other jurisdictions looking to replicate the public/private effort. The west side of Dallas now wants to implement a similar program.
Of course, video surveillance isn’t the only factor reducing crime in Jubilee Park. For instance, the JCPP has been making improvements, such as fixing streetlights and cleaning out alleys. Moreover, the JCPP has lobbied successfully to make most of the Jubilee Park area a drug-free zone in light of the several schools and churches in the area. Those arrested in those zones can’t plea-bargain to a lesser charge.
But the video surveillance system has brought intangible and incremental benefits to the community beyond its crime-busting capabilities. In early December, billionaire T. Boone Pickens donated $6 million to the Jubilee Park community that will be used for land purchase and the construction of community and park facilities. Harbison said the new community center that will be built with these funds would house police officers — who will monitor the area using the wireless mesh system.
Back in 2004, the city of Chicago embarked on a massive video surveillance project that has become one of the largest and most sophisticated video-security systems in the world, now with some 560 cameras. Headed by systems integrator IBM for the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC), the Virtual Shield project is designed to provide video surveillance throughout the city.
Video from initial cameras in the network was transmitted to OEMC headquarters via a vast fiber network throughout downtown Chicago, but wireless connections were needed to expand the system. Firetide was brought in to provide the mesh network. Eventually, the project could support thousands of wireless surveillance cameras.
Chicago’s video surveillance system is getting a makeover with the help of IBM, which will equip it with advanced real-time intelligence capabilities for everything from homeland security monitoring to traffic control.
The upgrade includes installing cameras along the Lake Michigan shoreline, as well as adding analytics to existing cameras using funds primarily from Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grants, said Kevin Smith, an OEMC spokesman.
The city doesn’t have any statistics available for the cameras yet, but it is now beginning the next phase of the deployment, which calls for the rollout of advanced detection and notification software that will include IBM’s Smart Surveillance Solution — a first-of-a-kind implementation that will bring intelligence to video surveillance. The system would be able to detect suspicious activity such as a backpack left on a park bench or the same truck circling around the block.
“The direction of surveillance is definitely smart cameras, where you build a story by recognizing trends and patterns. It’s not just about a point in time but identifying activities that are occurring in just a way that putting them together does raise a concern,” said Roger Rehayem, an executive with IBM’s Digital Video Surveillance and Security business.
However, the vast number of cameras creates monitoring problems. No matter how many eyes are watching, it becomes impossible to watch the feed from every surveillance camera around the clock. Intelligent software should help direct those viewing the video to any unusual events.
Moreover, an intelligent system will help the city reap benefits far beyond public safety, such as monitoring traffic flow, Rehayem said. “Municipalities want to do more with what they have and create more intelligence in the mundane things, such as identifying traffic patterns or congestion on city streets,” he said.
That is one of the ideas behind a recent deployment of video surveillance cameras on about 155 buses in the city of Boston. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), the fifth-busiest transit system in the U.S., transports about 1.2 million passengers daily. The MBTA tapped mobile video solutions provider Safety Vision and Firetide to install onboard surveillance solutions that enable transmission of live video feeds to laptops in MBTA police officers’ networked vehicles, allowing first responders to view onboard incidents as they unfold.
“The transit police came to us and said they wanted to see in the buses,” said Mike Schwerman, account executive for Safety Vision. “They had cameras in there, but now they have wireless mesh nodes in all of their cars with antennas on top and mesh nodes on the bus. When the police get close enough, the system automatically meshes up.”
The $1.4 million project, partially funded by a DHS grant, will also play a vital role in providing accurate feedback when an incident occurs and reduce false claims, such as other drivers saying that the bus driver was at fault in an accident.