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Edmonton Police monitor the force with video surveillance

August 12, 2009 Written by  Rosie Lombardi
Privacy advocates may rail against the steady encroachment of video surveillance in public places by law enforcement - but the all-seeing camera eye is also focusing on police departments themselves. 
Jurisdictions across Canada and the U.S. are increasingly mandating video surveillance of officers' interactions with suspects at police stations in entranceways, holding cells and interrogation rooms. 

This is done for the safety and protection of officers as much as suspects, says Karl Vancl, account manager at Mississauga-based video systems vendor Panasonic Canada. "Lawsuits are often filed, and people sometimes say something happened that didn't really."

New areas of police surveillance will likely be coming in the future. In the U.S., many states already mandate in-car video surveillance, says Dilip Sarangan, San Antonio, TX-based senior analyst at global consultancy Frost and Sullivan.

"In cases of reckless driving and other traffic violations, cameras are used as extra evidence that suspects were doing what the police say they were - otherwise, it's just one person's word against another."
Vancouver and Toronto are already moving to in-car video and the volume of requests for video evidence of police activities by lawyers and investigators responding to complaints is on the rise across Canada, says Vancl. "Police have to look at new ways to streamline video capture and management, or they'll soon be overwhelmed by the number of requests they receive."

Edmonton eyes the problem

As in many jurisdictions, Alberta's provincial policing standards requires video surveillance of all arrest processing areas and holding cells at police stations, and retention of these videos for at least 30 days.
Police departments need to produce the videos as evidence to demonstrate the appropriate use of force was made by officers, and to support criminal charges, says Rick Tuson, technical security advisor for the Edmonton Police Service (EPS).

The number of requests made for evidentiary video in Edmonton is substantial, he says. "There were over 100 requests for video in 2008, and we're seeing a marked increase in these numbers for 2009. We expect them to continue to rise as our police service uses the tools now at its disposal more and more."
But installation of video equipment in police stations has grown organically over the years in most municipalities. Until it implemented a Panasonic system last year to unify its sites, the EPS had a hodge-podge of standalone equipment from various vendors scattered throughout the city. "Most of the previous infrastructure was dated, and required on-site service and support," says Tuson. 

Under the old regime, responding to requests for videos was a labour-intensive process. Technical team members assigned to collect a video on behalf of investigators faced technology challenges in addition to chain-of-custody requirements, he says.

"They had to drive to the location, connect to an external recording device, find the video, and start the lengthy burn process. Once the DVD was made, it would be given to the requestor with paperwork documenting the technology used and steps taken. This often required a single day's labour per request."

The EPS needed a better solution that would allow them to respond more quickly to investigators' requests. Ideally, it would enable central management of the video system on the WAN network, thus reducing the time spent by technical staff driving around the city to different sites to fulfill requests. "The new solution had to permit remote video queuing and retrieval from our desktop computers," says Tuson.

In addition, the solution would also need to allow staff to access the cameras themselves remotely if they needed to be reset, refocused or adjusted in other ways. "Historically, when a service call was placed, it would take days for the integrator to respond and physically attend to the camera. This affected the operation of a cell or facility for the duration sometimes," he says.

Another important consideration was scalability, as the system will need to grow as more cameras, DVRs and other equipment are added in the future. "New technologies are constantly being reviewed - in-car video and body cameras are some of the recent ones. And that 30-day retention limit that's mandated by the provincial policing standards is currently being reviewed."

The EPS settled on the Panasonic solution after a careful review of vendor responses to its RFP, he says. "From a pricing perspective, the Panasonic system was very competitive, and the EPS had prior experience with the company from a support perspective."

New and improved processes

Many police departments have implemented similar networked video systems, but the methodology the EPS chose to deploy its system is unique, says Panasonic's Vancl.

"The way they partitioned the system is original," he says. "The EPS had a vision of a distributed but centrally managed platform that would allow them to gain significant efficiencies."

The economies of scale of a centralized system have allowed the EPS to transform and speed up the processes around fulfilling video requests. "They now have a central department that looks after the entire city. Back in the day, it was the police chief or one of the sergeants at each station who was responsible for video retrieval, but now they've formed a group of video specialists." 

No new IT infrastructure was needed for the solution, as the Panasonic system uses the existing WAN, he says. "They segmented a portion of the network for security purposes, and that's what the video travels across."
And with their distributed approach, the EPS has minimized the impact of bandwidth-gobbling video on their network. "They have hundreds of cameras and recorders, but it's only when someone needs to retrieve video that it travels across the network - otherwise, it's stored at the station."

Few police departments have this type of distributed but centrally managed set-up, says Vancl. "The key is to have all the stations standardized on one platform. Someone has to make a decision to deploy standard products at each site."

Panasonic's video management middleware doesn't work well with other vendors' wares, he warns. "It's hard to piecemeal the solution onto an existing infrastructure, because some older DVRs lack networking capabilities, and some police stations were even using outdated VHS technology."

Ensuring the security of the system is also more difficult with disparate vendors, as their products may not have the same design or capabilities, he adds. "Security features are part of our DVRs, which are embedded appliances. This means they're hard-coded and purpose-built only for what they do, and don't have ties to other applications. They can't be manipulated by other software on a PC."

To ensure the reliability of the system, the EPS implemented redundant recording devices at each site as back-up in case of hardware failure, and extra PCs for additional storage and remote administration, says Tuson.
The Panasonic system's middleware manages 85 DVRs and 350 cameras across Edmonton's police stations, he says. "Despite the numbers, we've experienced very few service requests for it since it was implemented last year," he says.

Labour and turnaround time have been reduced significantly, he adds. "The whole process is a demonstration of efficiency. With this technology, we can queue multiple video requests for download within minutes of each other, and step away from the process."

The networking capabilities of the Panasonic solution have also removed the need to travel to each site to capture video. Once a DVD is created, requestors are notified it's ready for pick-up. This simplified process with only two players in the chain also strengthens the integrity of the chain of custody, he says. "It reduces the number of human interactions with the video."
Last modified on August 12, 2009

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