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New robust video surveillance solution makes San Luis Potosi, Mexico safer
Written by Tim Burke
Public safety deserves a bigger presence out on the street. More eyes watching in more locations allow for a stronger law enforcement reach into the community that police are sworn to protect and serve. Now a “wireless cop” has arrived on the scene in a major city in Mexico in the form of a robust new video surveillance system. This technology is making an impact not only for officers responding to incidents but for investigation purposes.
The United States has made greater use of video cameras for the past decade, but it was only recently that the technology took a big step forward in the city of San Luis Potosi, Mexico. San Luis Potosi (known in the region as SLP) is the capital city of the state of San Luis Potosi. The city is located in north central Mexico, about 200 miles north of Mexico City. It is a major commercial and industrial center. Its metropolitan area has a population of nearly 1 million. According to a recent survey, San Luis Potosi (SLP) and its metropolitan area were rated the third best place to live in Mexico. But no area is completely devoid of crime.
Some of the other major cities in Mexico faced serious drug and crime problems. The mayor of SLP saw what was happening in those places and decided to leverage technology to help prevent crime from increasing in his city. So last year, city officials decided that San Luis Potosi needed a technology solution to better protect its citizens from crime. It all started during the most recent election when the mayor of the city ran on a platform of “more citizen protection.” City officials called on the Global Government Solution Group, Homeland Security (GGSG, HLS), of Cisco, with worldwide headquarters in San Jose, CA, to help them find a solution.
JR Fuller, the senior business development manager of GGSG, HLS, for Cisco, explained, “We used a local partner to develop a solution and provide video surveillance. The pilot project went first and met with success. Each camera gave the equivalent security of three officers out on the street.”
City officials had reviewed a number of surveillance options before choosing to install a wireless mesh camera network throughout the city; eventually they plan to install 200 cameras. But it was important to start small in SLP, building upon lessons learned. This technology wasn’t as widely used in Mexico as it was in the United States, and any number of variables could have arisen to slow its acceptance. Starting small with quantifiable milestones was the way to go.
“The first purpose,” Fuller explained, “was to deter crime. Cameras out in public will stop the casual criminal. We have the cameras positioned on poles and bridges. The public is very much aware. But the second aspect is you want to allow for enforcement to take place against the criminal. The camera signal is sent back to the Command and Control Center at Police Headquarters, which is manned by trained police officers who can dispatch the appropriate response. Whether it is SWAT or patrol officers, they will be able to deploy the correct personnel.”
Key to the success of the surveillance system was training. While SLP had implemented the latest in video analytic software, the need for comprehensive training of network operators could not be underestimated. “Intelco, a local firm, installed the cameras, the network and the Praetorian Intelligent Surveillance software (made by L3, a New York City-based U.S. defense company) to work across the Cisco Surveillance System. They have people in the Command Center 24/7 providing ongoing training to officers,” Fuller said.
City officials in SLP selected a wireless network because installation required little infrastructure disruption and provided a scalable and flexible platform for additional security functionality in the future, such as license plate recognition, biometric scanning, and personal digital assistant (PDA) integration. “Our job is to meet the emerging needs of our global partners,” said Chris Josephs, the director of business development at Global Government Solutions Group. “Wireless is the way everything is going. We put cameras on poles and video over a network to make it manageable for a public safety agency. The camera can be triggered, based on anomalies that are pre-set. The detection systems are integrated.” Cisco provides the platform to manage the video. The video system consists of a camera, which is the input device to capture the images; the connection to the network; and the video surveillance manager, which takes the video input from the cameras and moves it to storage or network storage or manages the streams into the Command Center to be viewed by the operators.
A key part of the integrated system at work in San Luis Potosi is the Praetorian software and its unique Hawk system, which can map the city and has a situational awareness feature that allows the operator to follow a subject or criminal block-by-block, in effect “walking” the viewpoint from one camera to the next, thus keeping the subject on video under surveillance for continuous coverage.
“By sharing the video analytics package we can have cameras stitched together into one on-screen view,” Fuller said. “For example, the system can give the operator back at the Command Center a view of an entire street as a truck moves along it. The operator can zoom in on the license plate. At the user console, the operator can click on a camera view himself or switch the Hawk system to automatic and it will follow the truck on its journey.” He added that SLP is moving to live feed in its patrol cars and is currently testing out the system in a few cars.
Analytics built into the system can trigger any camera in the network and send a signal to the Command Center. When asked if he could explain some of the real alerts law enforcement officials in SLP might have pre-set into the system, Fuller said, “double parking is a real alert the system uses. Many criminals will try to block another vehicle or want to make a fast escape so they will double park. That’s how a crime situation often starts. The surveillance system detects double-parked or blocked vehicles.” Operators can send a cruiser by to move the situation along if necessary.
But where do these surveillance systems sit for best results? “Surveillance systems are deployed in high traffic areas first,” Fuller said. “We didn’t want the cameras right in the streets that police knew were drug traffic areas.” Local law enforcement officials didn’t want the bad guys flushed out to other areas. The deployment had to be done carefully and in small doses. “We learned stuff as we went along,” he continued, “we had to get access to locations, we had to secure a power supply, and we had to get permissions from power companies. This is a large-scale video project. To be successful, we broke it down into manageable segments. We added to their cameras, we added bandwidth, we needed a robust system to handle the large volume of transmissions, and we needed all of the hardware and software to work together.” The cameras, he added, are both Cisco cameras and Sony cameras that are being installed at SLP.
For police in SLP to get the full benefits, they had to learn how to use the technology. They had to learn how to store the video. They had to be shown how this video surveillance technology could better protect the citizens of the city, as the mayor had decreed. The training is ongoing, but the video is providing more eyes on the streets where they are needed. The mayor has stated that using this technology saves lives, Fuller said.
“Some of the videos of actual captures have included a car-jacking that was prevented and some graffiti stopped in progress,” he said. “The result from a cost perspective is it is a good use of taxpayer money. From a safety perspective, officers will know what they are looking at ahead of time and can respond appropriately with better outcomes and in greater safety.”
San Luis Potosi is situated right in the middle of the thriving business “triangle” made up of Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey in the heart of Mexico. The city is a growing tourist destination drawing on its beautiful old-world Spanish style architecture. It is a thriving center of manufacturing, plus it has now become a model for new law enforcement methods with its new wireless video surveillance system on the job. More eyes on the streets equals a safe place to live and work for the citizens of SLP and a safe place to earn a living as a public safety officer.
Tim Burke is a freelance writer based outside of Chicago.
Photos courtesy of Cisco and the city of San Luis Potosi, Mexico.
Published in Public Safety IT, Jul/Aug 2009
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