Expanding Surveillance

Expanding Surveillance

Wireless video surveillance proves to be an economical solution for public safety

Small cities are no longer insulated from heinous crimes that have traditionally been associated with much larger cities such as New York and Los Angeles. Take the small community of Easton, Pa., a city with a population of 27,000, located 60 miles south of Philadelphia.

Nov. 29, 2007, started out much like any other day in Easton, but trouble was brewing. Several members of the notorious Bloods street gang from Newark, N.J., were out for vengeance. Police allege that three individuals with the gang monikers “Monster,” “T-Bone” and “G-Red” made the drive to Easton looking for Rene and Lakimdel Edward Spring, who police suspected of committing two murders in Newark and Jersey City, N.J..

What happened next shook Easton to its core: Police allege that Monster, T-Bone and G-Red pulled up to an apartment building across the street from the Easton Area Middle School on the 100 block of North 13th Street, known locally as the West Ward. They allegedly made their way up to a second-story apartment and executed three of its occupants: Alphe Rene, Aleah Hamlin and Chanel Armour, who were not involved in what had happened in New Jersey. Lakimdel was taking a shower and Rene was asleep in another room when they heard the gunshots. They scrambled out of the second-story window.

This monstrous act resulted in the third, fourth and fifth deaths in Easton in 2007 and intensified the residents’ growing concerns about the area’s safety. The city of Easton decided to take steps to make the area safer for its residents and the children of the neighborhood school. The Easton Police Department (EPD) jumped into action and applied for a Secure Our Schools federal grant.

A Modest Proposal

EPD put out an RFP, and Let’s Think Wireless, a wireless and security integrator operating in the Northeast that has established long-term relationships with many municipalities, provided what was deemed the best overall proposal to implement a surveillance camera system along the street by the school to improve security and ensure children would get to and from school safely.

Given that the city secured the funds through a grant, it needed a solution that didn’t have recurring costs that would strain budgets and that had the potential for easy expansion if the solution proved to be effective. So Let’s Think Wireless partnered with Firetide to develop a solution that could provide a reliable highperformance communication foundation that could enable surveillance cameras in real-time and wouldn’t have the typical upkeep costs associated with these kinds of deployments, which normally involve leasing expensive fiber cables.

The first phase was modest, including 13 Bosch 500 PTZ cameras and a handful of Firetide’s mesh nodes. Almost immediately after the camera network was installed, EPD noticed that crime dropped off in the area dramatically. Beyond that, crimes that previously lacked witnesses—some of whom were too afraid to come forward—were now being solved, and criminals were being taken off the streets.

Based on the success of the program, EPD advocated expanding the network and video surveillance into other high-crime areas. Neighboring Northampton County locations such as Wilson Borough and Lafayette College took notice and began working with EPD to expand the system into their areas.

The Growth of a Network

Today there are 38 cameras installed and 31 Firetide mesh nodes, which Wilson and Easton share and monitor. The sheriff’s office has more than 80 additional cameras that are being integrated with the system. Between the two cities, there are now four monitoring stations on the network. Police officers or volunteers monitor the stations 24/7. They monitor special events or provide insight to critical details to officers on crime scenes before they arrive, which has increased their safety.

“We have done a lot of planning with the school district, Wilson Borough, Northampton County and Lafayette College to pool our resources to come up with the best possible solution that meets all of our combined needs,” said Easton Police Chief Larry Palmer. “We realized early on that it was much more costeffective and mutually beneficial for us to own, operate and share our systems and expand them for the betterment of our collective communities.”

The network has grown to cover the Northampton corridor from the West Ward school, which now includes the football stadium, to city hall and the police station. It also has been expanded to the riverfront, amphitheater and the downtown circle plaza. And due to the high bandwidth the Firetide mesh solution provides, the city decided to give back to the community by offering free wireless access along the Riverfront area.

“The intent was to build a larger, countywide video surveillance system that could benefit the citizens in a myriad of ways, and we are seeing that come to fruition,” said Mickey Branson from Let’s Think Wireless. “From Easton to Wilson, they have seen crime steadily decreasing through a combination of the dedication of the local police force combined with the surveillance network, which have proven instrumental in providing footage that is regularly being leveraged to further investigations and convict criminals.”

For the future, Let’s Think Wireless is working to install a fully redundant backbone between all of the agencies, Lafayette College is looking to soon have cameras up and running across the campus, and city hall is looking to install cameras throughout the building, which will be added to the network.

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

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