Fed up with rising criminal activity, a local crime commission in Lancaster, Pa., decided in 2001 that video surveillance cameras might be the answer to making the town safer. Soon a collection of business owners, civic boosters and city officials created the Lancaster Community Safety Coalition (LCSC).
By 2004 the nonprofit organization installed its first camera on a troubled downtown street corner with the help of a small local security company. Today, featuring a robust solution provided by Bosch Security Systems Inc., LCSC is on the verge of completing a 165-camera surveillance project that covers nearly all public spaces of the four-square-mile town.
Featuring a fiber-optic backbone (a portion of the cameras also utilize wireless technology) the solution provides live, round-the-clock viewing of nearly every street, park and other public space used by more the 55,000 residents and the community's many tourists.
Forging relationships with such community groups via town hall gatherings, neighborhood watch meetings and community service outreach programs can position your security installation business to get the call when monies are allocated for public safety.
Securing a City's Historic Streets
When the city planned to upgrade its traffic signal communications from copper to fiber optics, the coalition worked with city engineers to ensure the fiber-optic network could also support the video surveillance system. The relationship with its original security contractor short-lived, LCSC later subcontracted with Siemens Building Technologies (SBT) and other vendors to complete the majority of the solution's expansion throughout the community.
Baldwin Network Services of Narvon, Pa., is responsible for running fiber from each camera back to the head-end, located at the coalition's downtown offices. The company is connecting Bosch AutoDome and EnviroDome pan/tilt/zoom (p/t/z) analog cameras all through the city, which stream video over more than 100 miles of fiber-optic strands.
The coalition also contracted with Let's Think Wireless of Pine Brook, N.J., which has broad experience in community surveillance projects, to aid in the design and integration of the scalable system. Craig Lerman, vice president of Let's Think Wireless, says getting permission to install cameras on utility poles and other properties introduced some of the biggest headaches to what has otherwise been a mostly straightforward installation.
"The issues you run into are who owns the mounting assets and how hard is it to get rights to mount things," he says. "It all really comes down to coordinating, and access tends to be the time delay."
Working in tandem with technicians from Baldwin Network Services, Lerman's company provided the technology expertise to install about 15 cameras wirelessly in and around Lancaster's downtown area, which was first laid out in the early 1730s. While fiber for the total solution runs above and below ground for most of the solution, wireless functionality was chosen in Penn Square in the downtown area so to be as unobtrusive as possible.
"It was to keep the aesthetics, to keep that rustic look and not have the additional wires running everywhere that are visible to everybody," says Doyle Reiter, project manager, Baldwin Network Services.
Rustic, indeed. During the American Revolution Lancaster served briefly as the capital of the colonies where the founding fathers plotted against the British. Penn Square is also home to the historic Central Market, which was built in 1889, making it the oldest, continuously-operated farmers market in the United States.
All camera placement is coordinated with the police, along with business owners and other members of the community. If a camera is requested in a certain area, coalition employees will review the surroundings and determine if environmental design, such as trimming trees or adding lighting, would help to reduce crime. Once these environmental changes are made, the coalition will re-evaluate the area. If crime remains a problem, the coalition will work with its security providers and the local energy company to secure power and install the camera.
LCSC Takes Charge of Monitoring
Lancaster's program is atypical of other community surveillance efforts in that the private LCSC, not police, monitors the cameras. The LCSC, which is not overseen by any public agency, provides its own training to about 10 local residents who are hired to monitor live video from the cameras 16 hours per day.
The head-end of Lancaster's fiber solution features a Bosch bidirectional transmission system. A video signal independently transmits from a camera location to the controller site, while simultaneously transmitting control code from the controller site to the camera location.
Using a Bosch Allegiant control system and an IntuiKey keyboard that controls the p/t/z cameras, employees can switch between video streams from each of the cameras and hone in on suspicious activities or crimes in progress up to three or four blocks away.
"The Bosch cameras are extremely reliable and deliver excellent image quality," says Joe Morales, executive director, LCSC. "They are built with a durable exterior dome that withstands any weather condition as well as vandalism in the rare case it occurs."
Video is recorded on Bosch DVRs with attached disk arrays for storage. Recorded video of crimes committed can be used as evidence against suspects, which has eliminated the need for court trials in some cases.
Live monitoring is considered by coalition executives to be an important strength compared to systems in other cities around the world. The private operation has resulted in significant savings for taxpayers as well. Donations account for about a third of the coalition's $600,000 annual budget, along with covering most of the solution's $3 million start-up and installation costs, Morales says.
To date about 120 of the 165 cameras have been installed in Lancaster, said to be the most highly surveilled city per capita in the state, and possibly the nation. The solution is scheduled to be completed by the end of the summer; however, a recently formed group is calling on the city to stop the expansion of the camera system until laws are in place to govern it.
Morales, who also serves as a city councilman, steadfastly maintains the LCSC is operated with the utmost responsibility. Its employees are required to take drug tests and undergo a criminal-records check. And because no state or federal law governs the use of public cameras, Morales says he is drafting ethical guidelines for the coalition's team of staffers and about a dozen volunteers.
Video is monitored during peak times of police and criminal activity, and the coalition will increase the hours monitored when extra vigilance is required, such as during large or high-profile events scheduled in the city.
The LCSC's monitoring facility has a direct line to the city's center for 911 calls for times when police need to be immediately dispatched to an area. Staffers can even send live video to flat-screen monitors in the 911 center to help dispatchers communicate more effectively with officers patrolling the streets or arriving on a scene.
Camera Solution at Work
If a camera records a crime in progress, the video is given to police and prosecutors, and may be subpoenaed by defense lawyers in a criminal case. More than 300 tapes were handed over last year, records show.
Video also helps police conduct criminal investigations - often saving valuable police hours. In a 2007 incident, coalition employees alerted police to video of an imminent fight on a city street. Twenty seconds before police officers arrived on the scene, a man was shot and killed. The shooter fled to a nearby house and attempted to change his appearance.
However, officers guided by video from the surveillance cameras were able to find and arrest the shooter. In a previous case, similar in nature, but where the incident was not captured on video, the investigation took city police 1,600 hours to learn the identity of and apprehend the suspect.
"This video surveillance system is extremely progressive for a city the size of Lancaster," says Morales. "Lancaster is showing the world that citywide surveillance is not just for major metropolitan areas."
Note: The article first appeared in the August 2009 issue of Security Sales & Integration, a Bobit Business Media publication.