In the Public Eye

Government finds a better way to protect residents of the public housing system.

Building automation has revitalized public safety in Puerto Rico by employing a video surveillance system that improves communication throughout the police force and centralizes public housing issues.

The challenge before government officials was to better protect residents of Vivienda Public Housing in Puerto Rico. People needed protection from crimes such as battery, murder and complex drug trafficking.

A Call for Help
Puerto Rico is home to nearly 4 million people, and is also a tourist destination. But on this island, nearly 10 percent of the population lives in public housing. Crime is nothing new to these residents, but it is not something that should plague them either.

Security guards were a common presence throughout the Vivenda Public Housing system, but they were handcuffed when it came to effectively monitoring suspicious activity, and communication between the guards, residents and police was meager at best. A solution was needed immediately, not only for the residents’ safety, but also to help deter crime with a reliable security system that would effectively monitor activities and improve communication.

Solving the problem would be complex but not impossible. Government officials offered a pilot project two years ago. Several bidders went after the project, but local security company Avant Technologies won the contract. Avant is homegrown and knew about the problems in public housing.

In that two-year period, crime has decreased in the hand-picked public housing pilot areas. Avant’s bid and installation began the reversal of crime statistics by partnering with ObjectVideo; the companies designed and implemented a sophisticated video surveillance system that included ObjectVideo’s OnBoard solution. The system featured video analytics that enabled rulesbased people detection, classification, tracking and real-time alerting.

“By using ObjectVideo OnBoard video analytics, Avant has created an intelligent video surveillance solution that acts as a force multiplier for the Puerto Rican Public Housing Authority,” said Jamie Baker, director of OEM accounts for ObjectVideo. “The first responders and investigators who use the surveillance system use the video analytics to prevent situations from developing and to more efficiently build up evidence from forensic data.”

Layers of Protection
The project was not only successful—when residents at other housing complexes saw the results, they started asking for cameras.

“The pilot project turned into a second bid with 15 to 20 housing units and 460 cameras, all monitored in San Juan,” said Alberto Diaz, national sales manager at Avant Technologies.

Monitoring is the duty of the state police in Puerto Rico, an island that is 100 miles by 35 miles. This application is the largest central station in the United States and its territories for a public housing project. Law enforcement saw complimentary numbers in crime decreasing 20 percent or more. This was an important factor for state officials who began monitoring up to 375 complexes, and in neighborhoods where 80 percent of the murders were related to drug trafficking in public housing.

The security system works as a video sentinel server, as the video management platform engine, driving live and recorded video, controlls encoders and provides user access control. A map-based graphic viewer provides access cameras with MPEG-4 images and, because the cameras featured video analytics, the system was completely automated to assist law enforcement. As many as 35 police officers monitor the images during a work shift.

“The camera systems also have protected each other,” Diaz said. “The cameras overlap so if a camera or maybe even a group of cameras fail or are compromised, one camera protects the others. A tripwire is part of the video analytics package.”

The analytics has proved itself over time, according to Diaz. It provides perimeter protection for residents in public housing and, for law enforcement, it shows where people are congregating, especially in high drug use areas. It helps security know where there is activity and where law enforcement resources are best deployed.

“One problem in fighting the drug cartels is that they have their own security,” Diaz said. “Everyone wants to know what the other is doing. Video analytics gives law enforcement some idea of what’s going on in the neighborhoods.”

Real Results
The benefits received from this installation allow the police to detect, classify and track suspicious people in real time. Diaz said the system has become a true deterrent to crime. The centralized system also has improved communications by eliminating redundancies and increasing shared knowledge among police officers and other public safety officials.

“In addition to helping us reduce crime, the intelligent video surveillance system has enabled us to improve communication throughout our police force and centralize public housing issues,” said Carlos Laboy, executive director of the Puerto Rico Public Housing Administration.

Recorded video also can be used as evidence in criminal investigations, which can reduce associated costs to the government. Because law enforcement wanted a turnkey solution, Avant was the only bidder able to fulfill that guidance with Vicon cameras, IBM servers, ObjectVideo software and on-site technicians who manufacture, design and integrate the entire system.

The system has been so successful—beyond reducing crime by 25 percent—that it has become a model intelligent system for public housing worldwide.

About the Author

Ralph C. Jensen is editor-in-chief of Security Today magazine.

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