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Streaming Video: A Cop's New Best Friend?

October 01, 2001  |  by Roy Huntington - Also by this author

With the spate of active-shooters at schools and other vandalism or burglary-related crimes on campuses, police are looking hard at ways to combat the threats involved.

Video technology offers some solid solutions to problems in this arena. From an obvious increase in security due to site monitoring, to enhanced communications between schools and police during emergencies, this technology may offer a powerful tool for responding officers.

"As we speak," said John Lusardi, CEO of SL Streaming, Inc., a San Diego based audio and visual management systems provider, "We have the technology in place that allows a police agency to access real-time, seamless streaming video at remote sites. It's installed on school campuses now. This video is delivered at up to 24 frames per second and allows responding officers to be advised of what's happening, where and how, all at real time, with, at most, an 8 second delay. This isn't the jerky, three or four frames-per-second "frame grabbing" technology, but ultra-smooth, high quality imaging."

One of the pitfalls of the "frame-grabbing technology" so common in bank cameras, for instance, is the fact major details of the action can be missed. A camera may capture a robber walking through a bank door, holding a gun at the counter and then walking out the door. Plenty of "action" may be lost. True "streaming" video captures the event as if it's been filmed on a high-definition video camera.

The ability to transmit these kinds of high quality images to a cop working a beat car is close to happening -- and has obvious merit. Existing technology now allows properly equipped patrol cars to log onto a system set up at a school, for instance, when they are close by. This gives them real-time video of the events inside, but uses conventional frame-grabbing technology. Motorola's RemoteVUª is such a system. Often, however, dispatch centers can access the same cameras over standard phone lines or hard-wired cable connections to keep responding units up to date on events while en route.

"Presently, you need DSL or cable modem connections to handle the data for 15 to 24 frame per second transmissions," said Lusardi. "We've run preliminary tests, however, and were able to successfully transmit video-quality, real-time images into a police car, but at a limited distance." The difference in picture quality can mean the difference between an arrest and a guess. "We'll have a system in place to offer 24 frame per second streaming video into a patrol car's MDT or computer sooner than you think," continued Lusardi.

What's Stopping It Now?

Bandwidth, the monster that haunts virtually any high-tech wireless server today, is the stumbling block to true "real-time" video being seen on police car MDTs and computer screens. SL Streaming has installed systems in schools -- accessed via DSL or cable -- that allow dispatchers to tune in via a centralized Website and "hot links" to various sites. They can then prompt responding units as to the play-by-play, all in true, streaming video technology. But, until bandwidth can increase, this is the closest to real-time for responding units there is.

At A School

Often, however, existing camera systems can be used to enable remote access. "The SafeWatch is a complete system that can take existing analog cameras, compress the images and bring them back over a network," said Ray Patalano, Public Safety Offering Manager for Motorola. "Our IP Gateway provides two things. It's a way to connect to the intercom system at a school and it also provides a backup phone line. If any of the communications is cut off at a school, there are still backup direct-link phones available through SafeWatch."

With the SafeWatch, police can talk to students and staff at the school over the secure system, while watching the on-site cameras. However, with most current frame-grabbing technology, there is a time delay that has to be taken into consideration. It can range from 30 to 90 seconds, depending upon the system, the speed of the connections, the state of the system and other factors. Also, keep in mind, most systems can take advantage of currently installed cameras.

It's Not Just For Schools

While the applications for school security are obvious, there are other areas in which streaming video can and would play a serious role. Imagine real-time video from a lapel camera on a police officer's helmet during a drug raid. Chief officers, other SWAT members, officers and emergency services staff could all monitor the events as they happen.

If an officer activates an emergency call button in the field, dispatchers would be able to tune in to his or her camera to assess the situation virtually instantly. While it may smack of "big brother" it also smacks of a high level of officer safety, accountability and security. Times change and the means and methods of documenting events are changing quickly. They can either be embraced as an able tool or energy can be wasted attempting to prevent the inevitable. You may as well get angry about the rotation of the planets.

Already In Place

On Saturday, August 11, 2001, surveillance cameras installed by the Vancouver police captured video evidence of a vicious knife attack on four victims. J.M. "Jack" Gin is the founder of Extreme CCTV, Inc. of Burnaby, B.C., a manufacturer of video surveillance systems and IR cameras. He addressed complaints of the intrusion of police cameras on the streets in a letter to the Vancouver Sun. "In Europe, it's called proactive policing. Remote video support with two-way audio communication can mean faster life and death decision making. Details on the number of suspects, types of weapons, vehicles and directions are important details that can help to sort out the situation while the police are en route. I have visited central CCTV monitoring stations at police locations in the United Kingdom and have seen this pro-active policing in action."

Had police had real-time, streaming video at Columbine, perhaps the response might have been different. The ability to tune into remote locations and supply vital info to responding units simply can't be overstated.

Other Options

Once a system such as the SL Streaming hard-wired system is in place, police have several options. By accessing an Internet site, they are supplied with hot links to various locations in their city which have the systems in place. Each location has the ability to limit access to all cameras or any combination of cameras. An off-site security service or police detective could actually access several locations, watch 24 frame per second real-time video and dispatch ground support if there is a problem. This is a real boon for detectives on stakeout duty. Now it can be done from the comfort of an office, on multiple locations, with a mobile unit or two roving near the locations.

Additionally, with any systems using SL Streaming proprietary software technology, there is essentially no limit to the number of cameras able to transmit at 24 frames per second. Many frame-capture systems can deliver higher performance than three or four frames per second with only one or two cameras, but when multiple units are added, performance goes down.

Currently, the military and government agencies have the ability to deliver 24 frame-per-second video to mobile units via wireless technology but the cost is prohibitively high. Hence the wait until this technology is available for city police forces.

But Does It Work?

Mike Samuels, Director of Marketing & Sales at SEMCO, a systems engineering company in Vista, California, says the concept of mobile, streaming video is viable.

"We currently offer the ability to transmit frame-grabbing video over analog lines and to capture it on a digital storage device. This is great technology for someone who wants to monitor a store location, school, etc." said Mike. "Our ability to transmit wireless video has been used for years by law enforcement and the military. Our main accomplishment is in wireless, remote viewing devices. When these are combined with true streaming video, suddenly police have added a powerful, capable tool to their belt. Now we just need to work on getting this true, 15 to 24 frame-per-second video into police cars!" SEMCO inn connection with SL Streaming is currently working on marketing digital video storage systems (combined with remote cameras) for patrol cars. Using hard drives rather than videotape means significant savings in time and tape storage problems.

Full Court Press

Are the police or schools putting the pressure on to develop this technology? "It's both," says Ray Patalano from Motorola. "But the police are the driving force. They are getting calls from schools and parents saying, "What are you doing about school violence?" and they are responding. The police are saying they need certain tools to accomplish the job and since manpower is always a problem they are leaning toward a technology fix."

"By using existing installations like cameras and Internet connections, the introduction of a sophisticated monitoring system, accessible by police is an easy reality," added Lusardi. "The use of grant money and other innovative funding avenues coupled with a high level of community involvement can put this technology online quickly." An SL Streaming installation recently was the focal point of the apprehension of youthful burglars at Ramona H.S. in California. The high-resolution video of the miscreants prying open locker doors was played to one of the suspects on an officer's laptop at the suspect's residence. He confessed.

The ability to have "x-ray" vision and see into a crime scene, while the crime is occurring, is an almost magical addition to a cop's tool kit. Put this potent technology to work in your jurisdiction.

Tags: Video Surveillance


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