The Last Word

Security Behind Bars

POLICE officers around the world hold one of the most important jobs out there: saving people from the bad guys. They are, in essence, our real-life superheroes. Day to day, they risk their lives looking for and attempting to capture criminals. Once apprehended, those criminals take a trip to the police department, which, in some cases, is supervised by an antiquated surveillance system.

While some bigger police departments have greatly increased their security post-9/11, others like the Arnold Police Department, located in suburban St. Louis, Mo., simply don't have the funding to support it. The police department almost doubled its exterior security cameras and increased lighting in the building, but when it tried to obtain a grant to build a perimeter fence around the police parking area and around the side of the building, the project was simply too cost-prohibitive, said Lieutenant William Bonsack of the Arnold Police Department.


Police stations, jails and prisons, which have always had some type of video surveillance system, have really come to the forefront for replacing their analog systems, said Anil Dilawri, director of investor and public relations for March Networks.

"We did have some equipment that was probably about 20 years old. It definitely was showing signs of wear," Bonsack said. "Funds do have a tendency to get a little tight when it comes to government and police departments, so you have to do the best you can with what you have."

About a year ago, the police department received the extra funding that it had anticipated, prompting a major surveillance upgrade.

"The old system ran off of a time-lapsed VCR system that had a digital multiplexer in it, and we had VHS tapes up the wazoo," Bonsack said. "We wanted to get into the 21st century."

Police stations, jails and prisons, which have always had some type of video surveillance system, have really come to the forefront for replacing their analog systems, said Anil Dilawri, director of investor and public relations for March Networks.

"Their biggest issue on the enterprise level is the manageability of it all," he said.

After looking at several different systems for the upgrade, Bonsack turned to systems integrator Alarm 24, which offered him exactly what he was looking for.

"I didn't want something that was PC-driven. We wanted something that we could put into the network and only wanted the hard drives to record the video," Bonsack said. "I told them, 'This is what I want,' and they did it."

Alarm 24's answer to the problem was the March Networks 4000 series DVR system, which records video from 25 cameras installed in the station's holding cells, booking facility, lobby and outside perimeter; four 30-inch monitors, which allow the dispatchers to keep an eye on what's going on; and a two-way audio recording capability offered by Louroe.

Eliminating the "He Said/She Said" Dilemma
The system is essentially designed to secure the building, officers and inmates, but the biggest benefit comes from resolving false accusation disputes.

"People have a tendency to try to sue police departments, alleging that we beat them or pepper sprayed them. That turns into a 'he said/she said' dilemma," Bonsack said. "The cameras that we now have and the audio that records 24/7 allow me to curb those accusations."

Recording is something that can be done with analog systems, as well. But with that, it takes days upon days to do a full-fledged investigation because people have to sift through VHS tapes. Even if they find the tape they're looking for, the quality can be so grainy that it sometimes is not admissible under a court of law, Dilawri said.

The Arnold Police Department, like many police stations, has a high turnover rate. The longest stay for an inmate is about 30 days, but most typically stay about two weeks, Bonsack said. And because of the turnover rate, officers are often accused of abuse or of releasing the wrong inmate at the wrong time.

"The advent of digital video is really helping police departments a lot in that area," Dilawri said.

Going digital allows Bonsack to use his time more efficiently. Instead of having to spend hours looking for video, he's able to pull it up instantly, leaving more time to focus on the job.

Bonsack's surveillance system has been in place for about a year, and he has experienced incidents -- both good and bad -- that have proven the effectiveness of the system.

"We are a professional-enough department to admit that we make mistakes, too, but we address those incidents straight on and head high. If we make a mistake, we're going to be the first to admit it," Bonsack said. "Because of the surveillance and video system that we have, it's able to prove that 'See, we don't run away from certain things.' We take the appropriate actions to address such issues."

The system is in place to protect everyone in the police station. Bonsack and his fellow officers are pleased with how things have turned out.

"We wanted the best that we could possible afford, so that by the time we retire, it can be somebody else's problem to upgrade then," Bonsack said. "I think that with the quality of the system that we've put in, our headaches will become a little less."

Relying on Relationships
Bonsack and the Arnold Police Department, after looking at different solutions to upgrade their system, banked on March Networks and its relationship with Alarm 24.

"What sold me was the fact that the sales rep from Alarm 24 is someone who I've known for years, but never knew he worked for Alarm 24. His word is as good as gold. When he says it's going to happen, it's going to happen," Bosnack said. "And I tend to put a lot of stock into those personal relationships."

This article originally appeared in the February 2006 issue of Security Products, pg. 76.

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