Video Network Brings Real-Time Data to Pursuing Officers

The Gardena (Calif.) PD is the latest to implement a wireless surveillance camera network to help identify suspects and vehicles in city facilities, parks and public thoroughfares.

Paul Clinton Web Headshot

Perps using a vehicle to commit a crime in the city of Gardena, Calif., may now want to make sure they're smiling when they go through with their armed robbery or auto theft.

Not that we're advocating they should enjoy their offense. We just like to see a smile for their "big screen moment."

That moment won't likely be enjoyed by paying customers down at the local multi-plex. Instead, it will be seen by the officers of the Gardena PD.

This Southern California city is the latest to implement a wireless surveillance camera network to help identify suspects and vehicles in city facilities, parks and public thoroughfares. The agency, which even sought input from the American Civil Liberties Union, is using the cameras to gain valuable intel to pass along to patrol officers on the street, Chief Edward Medrano told POLICE Magazine.

Medrano approached the city manager of Gardena — a lower middle-class suburb of 60,000 souls located south of the Los Angeles International Airport — to use the technology as "a force multiplier for our patrol officers in the field" in 2007.

"If we can add another layer of protection, we can provide real-time intelligence to our patrol officers," he added.

The agency shares a consolidated dispatch center with four neighboring cities, and will add a command center to the station with four 42-inch LCD screens to monitor live feeds from the cameras.

After the city council approved $1 million for the project, Medrano secured another $1 million from the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). The department then hired integrator Leverage Information Systems of Redlands to oversee design and installation.

The cameras and wireless infrastructure will be rolled out in three phases beginning this month. In the first phase, cameras will be installed in parks and city buildings. The second phase in early 2011 will bring cameras to thoroughfares. Phase three will allow new developments to purchase a camera to add to the system, providing an exterior building view.

The cameras are pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ) and rotate 360 degrees at the thoroughfare locations.

"Where we decided to put cameras was based on historical crime patterns or the most active locations in our city," Medrano said. "All the cameras that will be placed on street signal poles in the thoroughfares were strategically designed based on multiple surveys and the best line of sight."

Due to privacy issues, no cameras will be placed in the residential district. In fact, the department is using video analystics software that maps the locations of non-public windows and uses technology to black out windows from the camera's view.

As part of his effort to gain community support for the project, Medrano met with community leaders and ACLU officials. The agency also agreed to set up a citizen privacy committee to audit footage.

"We've probably attended close to 40 community meetings, and we attended training from the ACLU about digital surveillance," Medrano said. "We implemented as many of those safeguards as possible. When they reviewed it, they said they didn't like it, but told us we did the best we could under those guidelines."

The agency chose a wireless rather than wired network out of neccessity rather than convenience, because much of the city is not wired with fiber. The Bosch Security cameras are paired with wireless components such as Firetide's outdoor mesh nodes with radio transmitters that create a public-safety Wi-Fi access point.

Gardena patrol officers can access the system with a smartphone, Apple iPad or other connected device and eventually may be able to gain access via mobile data terminals (MDTs) in the cruisers.

Here's how it would typically be used. Once a "hot" call comes in of a crime in progress, the thoroughfare cameras are alerted and begin pointing in the direction a suspect vehicle may be traveling. Then, sworn or non-sworn personnel monitoring the cameras from the command center will pass along any detailed information gleaned from viewing the footage to responding officers.

That could include vehicle or subject descriptions, directional information or vehicle records from a license plate record.

"Nothing beats real time intelligence when responding to a violent crime," Medrano added.

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