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Fortifying Police Stations

Police administrations can implement a variety of technologies to beef-up police facility security. While cameras are often top of mind in every police facility—even the old and outdated ones—many other technologies exist to monitor and secure these buildings.

It was just before 4:30 p.m. on a Sunday in January when a gunman entered a Detroit police precinct and opened fire.

Pellets from the man's shotgun struck a female sergeant in a hallway. Then Commander Brian Davis raced out of his office, exchanged fire with the man, and was shot in the back.

The shooter then rushed the horseshoe-shaped front desk with his pistol grip shotgun, shooting Sgt. Ray Saati and Officer David Anderson before being killed.

Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee decided to etch the image of this terror into everyone's minds by releasing video footage captured by security cameras on-scene. The digital show of vulnerability serves to remind the public that police stations need adequate protection for officers and non-sworn employees.

"We decided very deliberatively as a command staff that there was great value in sharing this video with the media," Godbee states in the video release. He goes on to say, "It's a great value for the public to see and understand some of the pressures that we're under."

One of those pressures includes sometimes lacking the funds to properly secure police facilities. The dangerous truth is that many police stations across the country are outdated and lack security measures such as bullet-resistant glass, metal detectors, and sufficient access control. 

The Detroit precinct that was attacked was no exception. The public accessed the facility via a revolving door and two traditional glass doors. The lobby lacked bullet-resistant glass, metal detectors, or other security measures. Visitors could talk face-to-face with officers sitting behind a large rounded desk. The desk itself added vulnerability by being so high that if subjects entered the building with something in their hands-like a gun-officers behind the desk couldn't see it; until bullets began to fly.

"No place, even where police officers are working, is absolutely secure," says Sgt. Lindell Smith, media relations officer for the Artesia (N.M.) Police Department, where a new and more secure $18.6 million public safety complex opens for business this month. "But if we can do something to make sure the areas where we work and serve citizens are more secure, then that's what we need to do. Whether it's adding security cameras, key-code locks for the front door, or other security measures, it's an important step that we need to take."

Police Chief Ed Deveau of the Watertown (Mass.) Police Department agrees. While the Watertown PD moved into a new $14.2 million police facility in 2010, Deveau knows full well what it's like to work in an outdated and unsecure space. The 70-officer department, which protects a community of 35,000, once operated out of a 12,000-square-foot facility built in the 1970s. "There really wasn't any security in our old station," he says.

Deveau believes that how communities protect police officers should not vary from one locale to the other or be based on funding or a lack thereof. "There should be federal guidelines and money available to protect every officer in every station so that what happened in Detroit can never happen again," he stresses.

Warm, Inviting, But Secure

Police administrations can implement a variety of technologies to beef-up police facility security, says architect Michael James McKeon of Kaestle Boos Associates Inc., a New England-based architectural firm with experience designing police stations, including the Watertown PD's new building.

While security cameras are often top of mind in every police facility—even the old and outdated ones—McKeon says many other technologies exist to monitor and secure these buildings. "Every year, every week almost, there is new technology that can be used," he says. Everything from advanced metal detection to bullet-resistant glass and fiberglass to sophisticated access control systems can be utilized for better protection.

First and foremost, he recommends police administrators consider the transparency of these technologies. "The mission of the police department is to protect and serve in a user-friendly way," he explains. "You want the person coming in to report a domestic violence incident or crime to feel comfortable and not be put off by the security measures in place. The challenge is how do you make it open and inviting while protecting the people inside?"

In the past, bullet-resistant glass and fiberglass' lack of transparency was a drawback, says Jim Richards, vice president of Total Security Solutions, a Fowlerville, Mich., company that provides bullet-resistant products. But that's no longer an issue, he says, citing a Detroit law enforcement project where Total Security Solutions incorporated natural voice transmission into the glass, which looks more inviting than a big glass square equipped with a speak hole. The company also installed bullet-resistant fiberglass into station walls and counters, and then builders dry-walled and tiled over it.

"Police stations want the lobby to feel inviting," Richards adds. "If bullet-resistant systems are designed and installed correctly, they shouldn't be the first things you notice when you walk into the building. They should be just another component of the facility that is functional and doesn't draw attention to itself."

The bullet-resistant standard for police buildings is typically UL Level III, which will stop a 44 Magnum bullet or 12-gauge 00 buck pellets. UL Level IV is also available and can stop a .30-06, but its use greatly increases costs.

Even when using UL Level III, the technology adds dollars to a project, but Richards stresses it represents a small portion of a building's total cost. "The key to keeping costs down is to plan this technology into the project before construction begins," he says. "No one wants to go in and change the design once construction begins."

Material costs are also lower if stations do not install bullet-resistant materials all the way to the ceiling, Richards adds. While he recommends putting products to the ceiling when ceilings are low, it's only necessary to run the material approximately 5 feet above a 40-inch counter when ceilings are high. "This greatly reduces expense," he says.

Richards believes bullet-resistant materials and glass, which can be added to existing buildings as well, are something all police stations should have. "I'm often surprised by how many police stations in this country lack bullet-resistant glass or building materials," he says. "But it really wasn't a consideration for many people until a few months ago when they had those shootings in Detroit."[PAGEBREAK]

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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