Convention Cams Stay On

Gear from the 2008 Democratic confab now watches Denver's streets
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Since 2006, the City and County of Denver have been watched by remote pan/tilt/zoom cameras monitored by the Denver Police Department under their HALO (High Activity Location Observation) program. But it took the 2008 Democratic National Convention to boost HALO's surveillance capacity from 13 to 63 cameras.

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The HALO system acts as a force multiplier in high-traffic venues like Coors Field. Photo by John Maushammer by James Careless

The reason: The DNC held its convention in Denver August 25-28, 2008. The event, which culminated in the nominations of Barack Obama and Joe Biden, required extensive video surveillance in and around Denver's Pepsi Center.

After the convention, the DPD redeployed some of these cameras to enhance their ongoing crime strategy.

"With these extra cameras, we have been able to significantly improve our coverage of busy public locations and high crime areas," said Lt. Ernest Martinez, the DPD officer in charge of the HALO program. "In many cases, the cameras simply deter crime from occurring, because people see them and think otherwise about breaking the law."

SYSTEM LAYOUT

The DPD, along with members of the city project team, developed technical and operational requirements to ensure that HALO was an open-architecture, scalable solution. Most elements of the HALO system have been designed and installed by Avrio Group, a systems integrator based in Easton, Md.

The system they devised is comprised of Sony IPbased PTZ cameras protected in domes, and mounted on poles (PoleCams) and portable solar-powered trailers. The cameras are linked back to the DPD's HALO Command and Control Center. Located in the DPD headquarters at 1331 Cherokee Street, it is a secured room equipped with Sony 48-inch flatpanel monitors, Dell T3400 workstations, Dell servers (for recording digital video), and feeds from more than 200 stationary cameras operated by the city's traffic department. In this one room, HALO's operators can pan, tilt and zoom into whatever crime or incident occurs on the street.

The linkage between the cameras and HALO HQ is provided by Firetide wireless equipment. Capable of broadcasting full-motion video in real-time, Firetide wireless products are built on 'MESH' technology. What this means is that any camera on the network can connect to any other point on the network, allowing signals to get back to DPD HQ by the best available route.

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A PTZ cam on the Denver streets In contrast, a traditional hub-and-spoke network often encounters delays when multiple cameras on the "spokes" all try to communicate with HQ at the "hub." Hub-and-spoke networks are also vulnerable to failures when the common entry point to the hub fails. In contrast, a MESH network simply reroutes signals to other points of the network if one access point goes down. This makes MESH networks extremely robust, reliable and redundant.

"We transmit our video in the 2.6, 2.4, 4.9, and 5.2 GHz law enforcement licensed bands," said Martinez. "Since the data is encrypted, and the MESH network is robust, our signals are safe and dependable. But because we are using the licensed bands, our coordination with the FCC is optimal when we want to change frequencies."

BIG BROTHER OR DETERRENT?

The 13 pre-DNC HALO cameras covering Denver was just enough to keep an eye on major public venues like Coors Field, but not enough to watch high crime areas in any substantial way. The DNC's presence in Denver—indeed, one reason that it decided to come to the Mile-High City—was HALO's ability to take on extra cameras to provide enhanced surveillance, and Avrio Group's ability to get those cameras up and running in short order. (The $1 million expansion was paid using federal funds.)

Once the convention was over, the DPD announced that the 50 new cameras would be relocated to high traffic and high crime areas. On the website of ABC-TV affiliate KMGH, reporter Jaclyn Allen quoted Mark Silverstein, legal director for the ACLU of Colorado, as saying, "It might not be legally an invasion of privacy, but I think we all know it is terribly invasive. And I think the legal term for that is creepy."

Silverstein's criticism was countered by Geneva Goldsby, a resident of Denver's Park Hill neighborhood where drug dealing is a problem.

"They just sell drugs right out here, right in plain sight. They don't care," she told KMGH. "We really need the cameras. The things going on around here are unreal, and it's getting worse."

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The real value of any video surveillance system can be assessed by the results it delivers. In HALO's case, the police say the system has so far assisted in solving over 300 crimes.

"Identifying suspects and witness through video capture has been very successful," Martinez said. "On the basis of reduced investigation and prosecution costs—down about 50 percent—we estimate that HALO paid for itself within the first 18 months of operation."

He said HALO has helped solve the attempted homicide of an officer, assaults, domestic violence, drug dealing, and motor vehicle thefts. "And our ability to monitor large events has allowed us to better deploy our resources, which are limited," he said.

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