Cooling High Crime Hotspots with Mobile Surveillance Technology
How Glenwood Police Department uses portable video camera platform as roving security zone
- By John Bartolac
- Oct 01, 2013
Like many small town police departments
seeking to maintain neighborhood safety,
the Village of Glenwood, Ill., needed
to squeeze every ounce of value from its
law enforcement tools. Budget-wise, a
city-wide surveillance solution was out of the question.
The chief of police really wanted a way to monitor
neighborhood hotspots without monopolizing all
of his department’s resources.
He spotted the perfect solution while attending a
security conference with the mayor and village manager:
a trailered surveillance unit called SkyWatch. As
a portable video camera platform, SkyWatch could
easily transport from one problem area to another.
The chief began envisioning how technology could
deter crime in his community.
“We have network video cameras at police headquarters
and the Village Hall, the public works and
the senior center, but none in the neighborhoods,”
said Demetrius Cook, chief of police for the Village
Like many communities, Glenwood has traditional
trouble spots: a park where teenagers congregate
and cause disturbances, a few houses with narcotics
issues, and a rash of neighborhood burglaries. With
a portable SkyWatch, the Glenwood Police Department
could move an extra set of eyes around the village
wherever and whenever it was needed.
Setting Up Surveillance on the Fly
SkyWatch is the brainchild of Critical Technology
Solutions, an Illinois-based security integrator. The
battery-powered unit consists of a platform containing
an array of HDTV-quality, network cameras elevated
on a 30-foot telescoping mast, to create a 360°
view of the surrounding area. The video is stored on
a server housed in the compact chassis of the unit and
controlled by a Milestone XProtect video management
In addition, high-powered transmitters allow the
video to be streamed wirelessly to designated devices,
such as authorized laptops and officer iPads, as well as
simultaneously to the video monitoring station at police
“There are similar mobile surveillance units out
in the market, but what separates SkyWatch is that it
uses completely digital, IP-based technology and can
be controlled remotely so that police manpower can be
maximized where needed,” said Don Peters, president
of Critical Technology Solutions. “The image quality
is tremendous; the software is intuitive and intelligent;
and the system is fully self-sufficient and secure.”
To help Glenwood PD carry out overt and covert
surveillance strategies, Critical Technology Solutions
customized the unit by mounting four different Axis
network cameras onto the mast. A 720p and a 1080p
network camera, both HDTV-quality with PTZ, operate
on guard tour and auto-tracking mode provides a
360° endless pan of the area, while a vandal-resistant
outdoor-rated fixed dome camera with Lightfinder
technology offers true color fidelity, even in near-dark
light. An HDTV-quality fixed dome camera also provides
an overview of the trailer itself to prevent vandalism
to the unit.
Police lights mounted above the mobile unit can be
turned on and off with a keychain remote or over the
Internet, depending on need for deterrence or covert
opperations. Glenwood PD’s unit is equipped with an
optional, built-in generator to augment the standard,
six-day battery charge and provide more flexibility
and duration. The trailer also contains a siren and
public address system, so police can warn away suspicious
“We watch the pattern of incidents taking place
throughout the village,” Cook said. “If we think we
can make some headway by moving the SkyWatch
unit to that location, that’s what we do.”
According to Cook, it’s just a matter of hooking
the trailer to his police vehicle and towing it to a new
location. He gets the unit up and running in about
“It’s the most viable and cost-effective alternative
to a city-wide solution I’ve seen,” Cook said. “Sky-
Watch can cover a couple of blocks in all four directions
at the same time, which is more than a single
officer in a police car can do.”
LENDing a Helping Hand TO Retailers
The first test for SkyWatch’s abilities came in response
to the local Walmart’s request for help during the
holidays, due to a rash of armed robberies at several
neighboring community stores.
Before deploying SkyWatch, Chief Cook said, “we
received an anonymous tip that there was a robbery
taking place at our own Walmart. We dispatched several
patrol cars to the store, only to find out that the
phone call was a hoax.”
Cook thinks it could have been potential robbers
checking out the police department’s response time.
The chief later towed the surveillance trailer to
the Walmart as visual deterrence, programming the
cameras to make a sweeping tour of the main entrance
and zoom out to include the onsite gas station and parking lot.
“We kept it there for two and half months,” Cook said. “We didn’t have a single
robbery there in all that time and theft inside went way down because the Axis
cameras were capturing people coming in and out of the store.”
According to the chief, even though Walmart has a camera system inside the
store, the PD’s mobile unit provided more vivid images.
“They were so happy with the results that they want the unit back there this
Christmas season,” Cook said.
Improving Neighborhood Quality of Life
The police chief meets frequently with homeowner associations to pinpoint sites
that need extra surveillance.
“It’s not always a crime issue,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a quality of life issue.”
One place with recurring problems was Hickory Glen Park. With no surveillance
cameras or adult supervision, dozens of teens took over the playground and
made it their daily hangout, which made it an undesirable place for parents to take
With the mobile surveillance unit in the park, the fighting, gambling and antisocial
behavior came to a halt.
“We got a lot of praise from the neighbors who border the park when we set up
the camera system,” Cook said. “In fact, they were actually upset when I moved
the system [to the strip mall].”
There was some push back from a liquor store owner when SkyWatch was
parked in the strip mall, but soon the owner soon recognized how the camera
system deterred rowdy patrons.
Cook said the system was also instrumental in catching graffiti artists defacing
the back wall of the mall.“We fully extended the mast to raise the cameras high
enough to view the back lot and kept the lights off to keep the operation covert,”
the chief said. “After a couple of days at the location, the police were able to apprehend
To address privacy concerns from area residents when SkyWatch appeared in
their neighborhoods, Cook invokes the system’s privacy mask—which blocks out
views into homeowner’s windows—and had actually shown residents the camera
views on his laptop.
Since its initial rollout, the mobile surveillance unit continues to hear kudos
from the community for helping the police shut down drug houses, prevent gang
retaliations and maintain a family-friendly atmosphere at the Fourth of July community
Sharing Technology with Neighboring Communities
The Glenwood Police Department works closely with neighboring law enforcement
agencies. For instance, the Glenwood PD doesn’t have a K-9 unit, but neighboring
“If we have to search for a missing child or search for drugs, all we need to do
is make a phone call, and they show up with their dog,” Cook said.
Conversely, when the neighboring community of Homewood needed Glenwood’s
portable SkyWatch system for temporary surveillance, Chief Cook hooked
the trailer to his police vehicle, towed it out to their venue, gave them a quick lesson
on how to use the system and lent them his laptop to monitor the cameras.
“We’ve been experiencing an increase in handgun violence in
the Chicago area of late,” Cook said. “This portable tool is a costeffective
way to expand our surveillance coverage and ensure our
neighborhoods that we’re looking out for their safety.”
This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Security Today.