Full-Service Security

Florida sheriff ’s department takes lead with storage

The Hillsborough County Sheriff ’s office (HSCO) in Tampa, Fla., is a full-service law enforcement agency comprising more than 3,400 employees. Leadership and officers value integrity, professionalism and community-oriented policing as the top priorities of agency operations. Today, HCSO, led by Sheriff David Gee, is one of fewer than 20 public safety agencies in the nation to attain law enforcement, jail and medical accreditation.

The city of Tampa faced particularly high crime rates in a two-square-mile community adjacent to the University of South Florida campus, where the sheriff ’s office struggled to control criminal activity, including illicit drug sales and prostitution. Residents complained that they were afraid to be outside in these areas, and the department knew it had to make a change.

So HCSO reached out to the city of Chicago to research the benefits of its public surveillance system. After reviewing Chicago’s crime-reduction statistics through the use of overt video surveillance, the sheriff ’s office applied for a $1 million federal grant to fund a municipal surveillance project that would provide a visible, identifiable deterrent to crime while improving safety for area residents.

“The goal is to increase safety in highcrime areas,” said Craig McEntyre, manager of the business support bureau for HSCO’s Information Services division. “The sheriff ’s office feels video surveillance is a powerful investigative tool as well as a visible deterrent.” McEntyre, who has experience in video surveillance projects in the private sector, handled the implementation of the system before handing daily operational control to the district.

He tapped SiteSecure, a systems integration firm based in Sanford, Fla., along with Avrio RMS, a surveillance integrator with experience with the Chicago installation, to develop a system that would meet the goals and the budget the sheriff’s office laid out. The proposed system was a state-of-the-art wireless surveillance system that funneled video data back to district headquarters without requiring expensive cabling.

The sheriff ’s office selected the proposal due to its value, innovation and the team’s expertise in municipal surveillance. The deployment began in January 2010, with the installation of 20 Avrio portable overt digital surveillance systems cameras. A Firetide wireless mesh network provides streetlevel communication, and robust Motorola backhaul links connect the local system back to headquarters.

Video management software from Genetec manages incoming video streams, while Pivot3 Scale-out Surveillance CloudBanks provide a flexible storage and server platform. Flexibility was important not just for vendor equipment but also for the implementation team, which had to adapt its plans quickly during the deployment. For example, the original plan called for installing cameras on existing utility poles, explained Craig Bowman, the division manager of SiteSecure. However, new concrete poles had to be installed when they discovered that the existing poles could not be used because of local utility regulations. The experienced integration team was able to address this challenge head-on and kept the project on time and within budget.

The camera project is called “Eye On Crime” because the cameras allow deputies to keep an eye on trouble spots, monitor streets for emergency situations and give residents an increased feeling of safety. The 20 cameras are located at strategic locations in an area bordered by Bearss Avenue, Fowler Avenue, Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Nebraska Avenue.

HCSO chose the Pivot3 Scale-Out Surveillance CloudBanks both to store captured video images and to host the VMS software. The scale-out nature of the Pivot3 solution ensures that the system’s performance and capacity can handle the demands of incoming video streams and offers investment protection over time as the deployment grows.

The amount of storage capacity necessary for surveillance video is a major budget item in a surveillance installation, as cameras can generate 1 TB of data in one day. A scale-out system such as Pivot3’s allow users the flexibility to start with as much or as little storage as they want, and then add capacity and performance simply by adding appliances, which can be done without disruption.

The Pivot3 CloudBanks also reduce cost by consolidating server and shared storage functionality in a common appliance. Pivot3 CloudBank appliances deliver both server and shared storage resources in one, and they provide application failover that protects both storage and VMS applications in the event of a failure. Hosting servers in an iSCSI SAN eliminates the need for standalone physical servers, which results in 40 percent reductions in power, cooling, rack space and cost.

“Pivot3 is more efficient than traditional storage solutions. HCSO needs to capture critical surveillance data at all times, and Pivot3 provides application failover to prevent the loss of captured video,” McEntyre said. “Furthermore, the fact that server applications share storage hardware resources reduces our overall power and cooling costs, which makes the platform very cost effective.”

Deputies at the Patrol District I headquarters monitor the wireless cameras. Video is recorded 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and surveillance footage is stored for a pre-defined amount of time. This gives deputies the opportunity to review data from previous days or weeks for investigative purposes.

For HCSO, the new system delivered real and immediate benefits.

“We have some very tangible results in terms of drug busts and criminal identification, where one burglar the police were investigating for years was finally apprehended,” McEntyre said. “We also found that the system has been pivotal in changing criminal behavior in hotbed areas, which helps us extend the reach of our officers.”

Furthermore, residents feel safer and are grateful that the police focused on reducing crime in hotbed areas.

The sheriff ’s office envisions increasing the number of cameras to 200, but it must move through another grant process to see it can secure funding. The surveillance system was designed to be portable and easily expandable to enable police to move the equipment to other crime hot spots or add more cameras to the network. Furthermore, the scale-out nature of the Pivot3 solution enables HCSO to expand its storage and server infrastructure easily so that it can meet new requirements without having to re-design the existing infrastructure.

This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of Security Today.

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