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Fortifying Police Stations

Today's police buildings incorporate technology and design to fashion facilities that are warn, inviting, AND secure.

May 16, 2011  |  by Ronnie Garrett

Let Me In

Access control technologies should also not be overlooked when planning security for police facilities. Access controls start with physical checkpoints then move into card readers and advanced biometric systems. Police departments have many options, depending on how much money is available and how much security is desired, says David Murphy, industry development manager at Zebra Technologies Corp., a Lincolnshire, Ill., manufacturer of printers used to produce access control cards for card-reader access control solutions.

"The cost can range from a $1,000 for identification all the way up to $10,000 or more, depending on the level of security they want to implement," Murphy says.

While bar-code card technology solutions have been available for some time, newer technologies exist that utilize biometrics or code readers, where the numbers switch places every time an authorized person enters the code.

One such emerging technology is available from FST21 Ltd., a security and automation technology company founded by Maj. General Aharon Zeevi Farkash, a security expert who once headed Israeli Military Intelligence.

FST21's SafeRise system modernizes the way people enter buildings. No key, card, or code is required because the face and voice of authorized personnel works like a key. The system uses second-generation biometrics with a combination of face, voice, license plate, and pattern of behavior recognition to provide easy, automated, and convenient identity management access with a high level of security.

"Access control as we know it typically involves swiping cards or placing a finger in a slot and having the unit read your fingerprint," says Avi Lupo, FST21 CEO. "We offer humanized access control and a digital management program. SafeRise talks, listens, understands, and takes action. It can do everything a security guard can do."

And the technology works, says Gil Neuman, CEO of Kent Security Solutions, a security firm headquartered in Florida. Neuman installed the technology at company headquarters and was instrumental in adding it to a new police station in Bal Harbour, Fla. This department, which employs nearly 40 officers who operate out of a facility located near a high-end shopping district, opted to add the technology to four doors: the front door, the evidence room, and the backdoors to the men's and women's locker rooms.

The biometric device simply scans individuals standing in front of a doorway and opens the door if it recognizes them. If it doesn't recognize them because they are wearing dark glasses, for example, the system asks questions to ascertain their identities by scanning their voices. Unknown individuals are asked who they are there to see, then the system would contact that individual to escort them into the facility. If an officer stands in front of the door with an unknown subject the system inquires whether he or she knows the other individual. If the answer is "yes," the system opens the doors automatically.

"SafeRise also records everything that happens at that entrance point," Lupo says. "Later, you can run reports by names, dates, and times to learn who accessed the facility and when."

The FST21 device even allows police stations to create a black list (wanted criminals or ex-employees) and a blue list (people like the mailman who require access on a daily basis). Departments can load images of unacceptable individuals into the system so that if these people ever enter the police station, the system automatically and unobtrusively notifies officers of their presence. The blue list controls access of approved individuals between certain times. If those individuals attempt to gain entry at unauthorized times, the system alerts officers inside, Neuman says.

While SafeRise might be viewed as pricey to some (it can cost up to $20,000 per door), Neuman notes the system will quickly pay for itself via added safety and adds that he believes it represents the future of access control. "The more people are exposed to the technology, the more this will become a trend," he says. "This system doesn't ask someone to stand a certain way or to touch anything. It's hands-free, which is a big deal. People do not like to touch anything; they are always concerned about how many hands were there before them."

Building a Better Station

Technology can accomplish many things, but a properly designed facility is just as important, notes McKeon. Interview rooms, for instance, can be accessible from two sides, from the lobby where the public is and from the police side where only authorized personnel can enter or leave. "You don't want officers to have to expose themselves to someone in the lobby every time they meet with a member of the public," McKeon says.

Secure police facility designs essentially fashion an impenetrable bubble around areas where official police business takes place, adds McKeon, underscoring that the Watertown PD facility does just that. Here, visitors are escorted to the appropriate departments. But at no point can they gain unescorted access to areas where main police operations take place. "There is only one way for the public to come into our building and that is through the front entrance," Deveau says.

A community room is available for public meetings, but the only way to access this room is from the front lobby. "Visitors come into the front lobby but they cannot get anywhere except into that room," Deveau says. "You can't get to the traffic division or to the officer in charge; you have to be led in and escorted. That's our line of defense."

And if someone escapes once inside the Watertown PD's secure perimeter, he or she couldn't get far because every door requires a key fob and pass code to go through. "If someone tried to force a doorway open, an alarm would sound," Deveau says. "In the booking area, the system is set up so that only one door can be open at a time. All other doors would lock as officers escort a prisoner in from the sally port. Only when that door shuts can other doors open to let booking officers in."

Deveau says he and his officers are happy and proud to have such a well-designed and secure facility. "We see what's happened across the country; the last few months have been horrific for police officers," he says. "To know we have a safe building is a blessing."


Duty Dangers: Station Attacks

For more information:

FST21 Ltd.

Kaestle Boos Associates Inc.

Kent Security Solutions

Zebra Technologies Corp.

Ronnie Garrett is a freelance writer based in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.

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