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Customized surveillance technology helps county improve security

Written by Dennis Cyphers

Like local governments around the country, Dinwiddie County, VA’s wish list of public safety projects needs to be weighed against budgetary constraints. High up on the county’s list of priorities were improvements to the surveillance systems for the county’s high school, courthouse, jail and PSAP center. The surveillance systems at these facilities were outdated, posing major security risks at all four locations. Dinwiddie County worked closely with its vendor to select and integrate advanced security solutions, within its budget, to address the individual surveillance needs and challenges of each location.

Dinwiddie County selected the TrueSentry video surveillance system from InterAct Public Safety. Its flexibility and scalability meets the individual security needs of all four locations. As the only digital video surveillance system that is built on an open, scalable architecture, TrueSentry offered Dinwiddie a customized surveillance system that has improved security at each individual facility.

The recently built high school’s camera system, installed by Pelco, consists of 97 fixed-view cameras, which are fully integrated into the TrueSentry system. Since the high school’s system is tied directly into the PSAP, its cameras can be monitored and incidents can be responded to in a timely and cost-effective manner. “There was a real need to have the school’s cameras tied into the county’s PSAP. We don’t want to be ‘Big Brother,’ but there’s a need to have extra eyes in the school, so if an incident does arise, we can respond effectively,” said Norm Cohen, director of information technology for Dinwiddie County. “Analytics would be a great help and would be a useful tool if a serious incident—such as a shooting or other emergency—did occur. Until we get additional funding for such a project, the 97 installed cameras serve our needs very well.”

Dinwiddie County’s courthouse needed a new, comprehensive security system, as the old system left many parts of the courthouse unmonitored. Dinwiddie was able to install a surveillance system consisting of almost 40 cameras, which are monitored by a staff of four deputies. The surveillance feed links up directly to the county’s PSAP. “Judges were complaining about the lack of security at the courthouse,” Cohen said. “There were some doors that would be propped open, and people could just walk in and out undetected. The new system makes the building much more secure.”

The courthouse’s TrueSentry system is providing additional safety and savings for the county. “If an alarm goes off, we can assess the situation to determine a proper response, including none at all in the case of false alarms,” Cohen said. “For example, an alarm was triggered at one of the clerk’s windows in the courthouse not too long ago. We were able to review the incident and determine that it was a false alarm. In a tight budgetary climate, not having to dispatch officers to false alarms saves the county both money and manpower.”

Due to privacy and regulatory reasons, the jail’s feed is not sent to the PSAP but to its own control room where it can be monitored by lieutenants, majors, the sheriff and on-duty prison staff. Dinwiddie County’s analytics-enabled surveillance system will offer the jail a level of security and monitoring that was literally impossible with the old system. “It was the need to upgrade the jail’s security system that got this whole project going in the first place,” said Chuck Lewis, communications manager for Dinwiddie County. “Jail personnel were complaining about a lack of surveillance and security. We knew that the time had come to upgrade the system, and through COPS/Secure our School grants, we were able to get the project off the ground.”

With a capacity to house between 80 to 100 inmates at a time, “the biggest complaint we were getting, the biggest security challenge that we faced, was that guards were not able to see past the cell’s bars at night,” commented Lewis on the need to improve jail security. “For the safety of both the inmates and the guards, we needed to replace a very limited, outdated system with something more comprehensive and modern that would let our officers look all the way back to the wall.”

The jail’s new surveillance system will be able to monitor all areas of the facility and alert on-duty officers of any incidents or potential incidents. With TrueSentry analytics, up to 80 distinct behavior patterns can be monitored, such as a restricted area being breached, or lengthy physical contact between two inmates that could signify a fight. When a specific behavior is detected, the system automatically notifies personnel so they can respond accordingly. “Analytics is going to be a huge help for the jail,” Cohen said. “There was an incident recently where someone was able to smuggle drugs to one of the inmates. Had we been running analytics at the time, we could have identified the transaction and prevented contraband from exchanging hands. Analytics will set up a barrier to such illicit transactions.”

With other county facilities getting improved surveillance capabilities, Dinwiddie chose to improve security at the PSAP center, as well. The PSAP now has four cameras that monitor the parking lot, front entrance, rear entrance, and the hallway of the building. “People are on duty 24 hours a day here,” Cohen said. “There was an issue of safety with people coming off of a shift late at night. They would literally have to be escorted to their cars by an armed deputy because the parking lot wasn’t secure. Now deputies no longer have to escort people to their cars and can focus their attention on other priorities. The PSAP itself is now much safer.”

Dinwiddie County is enjoying the benefits of installing a state-of-the-art video surveillance system throughout the county’s high school, courthouse jail and the PSAP facility. Since installation and implementation, the county has improved safety, reduced costs, and saved man-hours. “We would like to continue adding cameras and ultimately to add analytics to the school and courthouse systems. We are currently working to identify any funding options that may be available to us,” Lewis said.

Cohen added, “It is important that a county does its research to learn what it is they need, want and can budget. Research potential providers and make sure they can meet your specific needs. After you figure out what it is you’re looking for, team up with a really good, reputable vendor who will work with you to implement exactly what it is you want to install. There are all kinds of technologies out there, and a vendor can help you get what you need and can afford.”

Dennis Cyphers is the vice president of sales operations for TrueSystems, a division of InterAct Public Safety. Photos courtesy of InterAct.

Published in Public Safety IT, Jul/Aug 2009

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