Case study: Surveillance technology for investigations and crowd control
The Los Angeles Police Department details use of its current surveillance system to provide critical, real-time information during high-traffic events
By Joan Goodchild , Senior Editor
March 12, 2012 — CSO —
As the second-largest metropolitan area in the United States, Los Angeles is home to four million residents and the mecca for most of the entertainment industry's high-profile events. The almost constant stream of celebrity-infused happenings that require serious crowd control keeps the Los Angeles Police Department very busy.
Knowing the city could always be target, the Counter Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau of LAPD several years ago began to seek out a surveillance system that includes cameras easily installed on a temporarily basis for covert investigations— as well as for pre-planned public events in order to manage crowd safety.
The department migrated from a cumbersome system that required officers to be nearby and did not allow for surveillance from remote locations, to its current system, which includes high-definition cameras that stream video to a remote command post and is also agile enough for use in densely-packed, large-crowd events. Rich Cowgill of the LAPD's Technical Support Unit details how the organization found the system it is working with now, and the challenges they met along the way.
CSO: What was your surveillance system like before you moved to the one you are using currently?
Cowgill: In 2006-2007, I worked the narcotics division and we were using cameras with conventional microwave; analog cameras linked to a microwave transmitter. We were trying to hide them any way we could. We had to watch them remotely out in the field. An investigator would have to sit somewhere in the range of that conventional microwave broadcast, so a half mile or less away. The investigator would be sitting in his car all day with a little monitor about the size of a laptop on his screen with cables and it was a big hassle.
The signal was good if you were in range because it was like watching television, but you were very limited by the range. If you wanted to get some pans and tilts or other movement out of it, you had to use what they call a DTMF decoder, which is like what is on your telephone. You basically have a little radio with a keypad on it that would make phone-tone sounds and that would move the camera and it was all based on how good your proximity to the camera was. You had to be out there. We were looking for some flexibility to get away from that and network cameras were getting stronger and stronger. So we said "let's try a few of these." We bought 3 or 4 of the first PTZ (pan/tilt/zoom) network cameras that had come out and used those first.