The All-Seeing Eyewitness

DIgital surveillance system records shooting

Shortly before 1 p.m. on May 7, a man who was supposed to be returning divorce papers at a St. Petersburg, Fla., courthouse pulled out a gun instead, opening fire in the lobby before two bailiffs fatally shot him.

The incident began when the 30-yearold man entered the main lobby of the courthouse wearing a backpack. As he approached the security checkpoint, he was asked to place his backpack on the conveyer belt. The man responded by drawing a semi-automatic pistol, which he then began firing at the deputies.

One round struck a deputy in his left shoulder. He and the other deputy, who was uninjured, returned fire with their handguns. The shooter was killed in the exchange of gunfire. Thirteen rounds were fired by the suspect and deputies within a few seconds, while standing several feet apart. About 12 seconds elapsed from the time the shooter entered the courthouse lobby to the conclusion of the incident.

Since the shooting involved a fatality, as well as a wounded officer, sheriff ’s detectives began a crime scene investigation. Although there were many eyewitnesses, none of them had a perfect view of every participant in the shooting. As the shooting began, people were instinctively concerned with escaping danger rather than paying attention the details of the unfolding events.

It wasn’t until a few hours later that authorities discovered a reliable, unshaken eyewitness of the entire incident from two completely separate angles—a Digital Sprite 2 DVR from Dedicated Micros.

A Dedicated Solution
Three days prior to the shooting, a DS2 DVR was installed in the courthouse to replace an inoperative DVR. The DS2 DVR continuously records images from 16 day/night cameras—14 overlooking the courthouse perimeter and two hanging inside the main lobby. With its hard disk and video compression algorithms, the DVR can record up to 32 days of video.

“The Dedicated Micros DS2 DVR was so new that system setup and training was not yet complete,” said Keith Royster, the facility operations manager at Pinellas County, Fla., General Services. “The operations manager called Southeast Security, the company that supports the DVR, and a technician was able to talk him through the process of finding the time-stamped recording, extracting it from the hard drive and burning it onto a CD. Because the DS2 DVR is user-friendly, the police had the video footage on the same day of the shooting.”

The DVR was a valuable tool in the investigation. It provided a high-quality recording of the entire incident, enabling deputies to see every detail. The footage clearly proved that deputies were justified in the use of deadly force as an act of self-defense. The footage was released to media and subsequently broadcast on CNN.

“There is no question that a more time- and resource-consuming police investigation would have been required if the DVR and cameras hadn’t recorded the episode,” Royster said. “The sheriff ’s department is now using the video recording for training purposes, so officers can better understand how to react in a similar situation.”

Internet, Remote Viewing
By replacing its aging analog DVR with a professional digital CCTV device, Pinellas County officials enjoy a host of new capabilities such as support for IP networking. Now, operators can view and control images remotely using an Internet connection.

The General Services Facilities operations are housed in a separate structure near the judicial building. A standard Ethernet connection allows live and recorded viewing on a networked PC, using NetVu ObserVer software or via Web pages using a standard Web browser.

Multiple remote operators can access full, quad, six-, nine- and even 16-way screens with VCR-style fast-forward, rewind and frame-by-frame viewing. They have manual control of relay outputs that control devices connected to the DVR as PTZ cameras.

“We use the MPEG-4 compression technology to reduce bandwidth requirements, and yet the quality of resolution is still very good,” Royster said. “Extending the ability to view images from the DS2 DVR doesn’t require any additional cost or overhead, so we’re allowing the sheriff’s department to have access to it.”

Video Motion Detection
Many of the day/night cameras are equipped with motion detection, which is unable to distinguish between different types of movement. The software allows Pinellas Country officials control when the DVR starts recording, based on video motion detected from the cameras.

“The video motion detection feature lets us customize each camera, so if we know a certain camera includes a view of cars driving down the street, we can blank out that portion of the screen and only record when people walk in front of the building,” Royster said. “This really makes the motion detection cameras more flexible and powerful.”

The process of picking good equipment really boils down to two things: will the equipment work properly, and how is the customer service? In this case, both were answered satisfactory as integrators and end users agreed.

“Not only did they help us over the phone on the day of the shooting, they even came down here the following week to give hands-on training,” Royster said. “Despite the tight fiscal budget atmosphere, we’re requesting to upgrade all of our video surveillance equipment. After seeing its benefits in the courthouse shooting, the sheriff’s department also is considering funding another DVR from its own budget.”

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