SoCal City’s Surveillance Acts as Force Multiplier

When city officials in Torrance, Calif., decided to green-light a proposed video surveillance project, they had more in mind than to simply put additional “eyes” on the streets to help combat crime.

<p>A wireless radio mounted atop at light pole transmits high-definition images from a 2-megapixel Sentry360 pan/tilt/zoom (p/t/z) dome camera back to police headquarters.</p>Wireless Radio Deployment Goes Smoothly

The camera system envisioned by Torrance officials would be a test case of sorts. The idea was to deploy a high resolution camera at four major intersections for investigative purposes. The intersections have been deemed likely traffic routes for perpetrators to use given the proximity to freeway onramps.

“We have seen other agencies that have had success with it. We wanted to do a small sample to monitor the traffic. We are putting our foot in the water to see how it works for us and to see if we want to deploy it more wide-scale,” says Lt. Tom Starks of the Torrance Police Department.

The Fluidmesh Network gear that Cox selected for the project in fact was his first wireless video surveillance installation. His design called for eight wireless radios to transmit video feeds to a server housed at the Torrance PD command center. Seven of the radios are point-to-point and one is a mesh-end radio.

“A point-to-point sends information from one radio to another. A mesh will send multiple radios to a single radio. For example, the police station itself has the mesh radio because that radio is reaching out to all the other radios at all the intersections,” Cox explains.

Radios mounted on intersection traffic poles, along with a corresponding dome camera housed in a Dotwortz bullet-resistant enclosure, talk from that point to a single radio down the road. The mesh radio mounted at the police station provides the hub where all the radios transmit to, and then the video feeds are directed to the head-end switch.

Installing the wireless radios proved to be less of a chore than originally anticipated. Cox was expecting he would likely have to contend with signal obstruction issues. “We thought that would be very challenging. They say you need to have absolute line-of-sight and the way the streets are shaped they are not perfectly straight,” he says.

Wireless devices were mounted in varied positions on the traffic poles to achieve optimal signal strength. “We had to close down the streets and get up in lift buckets and take our time in order to line them up by hand,” Cox explains.

<p>A solar panel charges a group four car batteries that provides power to the dome camera and enclosure, plus the wireless radio, when the sun is not shining.</p>Solar Power Necessitates Low-Wattage Camera

Going into the project, Cox was aware that three of the intersections would present no issue where power was concerned. He would simply install his own breakers and breaker boxes on the traffic poles and run high-voltage power to the cameras. The fourth intersection was a bit more of a pickle since it is controlled by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).

“They control the signals and they wouldn’t let us tap into their power. We could use their poles to mount the camera and radio equipment, but we could not access anything inside their poles to tap into their wiring,” Starks says.

So the city wrote into the RFP that solar power would have to be equipped instead. For Cox, this added a twist to the type of camera he would eventually select to install. The three city-controlled intersections were each equipped with a 2-megapixel pan/tilt/zoom (p/t/z) camera by Sentry360, featuring 1,080p resolution and 30x zoom. But Cox had his work cut out for him to find a camera with a lower power draw to match with the solar unit.

The photovoltaic system he installed comprises a solar panel mounted in a southerly direction. The panel is wired to a series of four car batt
eries. When the sun is not shining, the batteries kick in. “The batteries power a 110-volt inverter. So we go from a 12-volt system back out to a 110-volt system,” Cox explains. “The 110-volt system powers our cameras and wireless radio, as well as the blowers and housing and everything.”

<p>Digital Networks Group of Aliso Viejo, Calif., provided a custom-built 80TB file server by Seneca that stores data for up to two years. Video from the four-camera solution is streamed, recorded and managed with the Ocularis video management system (VMS) by OnSSI</p>Although the Fluidmesh wireless radios use very low-voltage PoE, the additional power draw of the Sentry360 camera forced Cox to conduct an extensive search for a different model in order to meet the limits of the solar panel system. “We had to go with a very low-wattage camera. The Sentry360 drew a little bit too much to meet our needs. So, we went with a Canon p/t/z that uses a lot lower wattage, which allowed us to use a smaller solar panel system,” he says.

Completing the installation in January, Cox also provided the police department’s head-end equipment for the system, including a seven-foot equipment rack and the server. He custom built an 80TB file server by Seneca that stores data for up to two years. Cox also selected the Ocularis video management system (VMS) by OnSSI for streaming, recording and managing the video.

Officers can view video feeds on a large wall-mounted screen in the command center; plus, in a separate workplace, the officer in charge can view and manipulate the cameras from a desktop PC monitor.

“We can monitor the cameras in real-time, but they are more for the purpose of reviewing video after a crime and look to see if the car drove through an intersection,” Starks says. “The video plays extremely smoothly and we have the ability to zoom in to retrieve license plates from both live and recorded feeds.”

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Rodney Bosch is an editor for Security Sales & Integration magazine.

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