“The quality is outstanding,” says Inspector Tim Mifflin, branch commander for administrative support. Made by Vancouver-based Avigilon Corp.
, the system centres on a network video management software. The branch also upgraded its 48 analogue cameras with Avigilon analogue encoders and installed two HD network video recorders that store 30 days of continuous video.
Chatham-Kent, in southwestern Ontario, is one of the first police services in Canada to upgrade to HD. The system was installed in January to increase security, provide more effective monitoring of prisoner areas and bring video quality up to meet court evidence requirements. The upgraded cameras have a greater range of functions, and improved audio-visual synchronization produces much clearer and more detailed images.
The system, being used to monitor courtrooms, interrogation rooms and lockup and prisoner property areas, has given police the ability to zoom in on different locations throughout headquarters, Mifflin says. A new three-megapixel camera, for example, installed directly over the booking area, allows them to take close-up shots of prisoners’ property. “And when a prisoner’s property is booked in, we have the capability to identify the serial numbers of each bill, the currency that’s logged in as property. It allows us to have a more complete method of managing the property of persons that are in our custody.”
Digitization is helping to move video evidence into the forefront of police investigation, says Dave Tynan, vice president of global sales and marketing at Avigilon. Long considered just a means of validating other more reliable sources of information, video is becoming a primary tool for police in gathering evidence. He compares the quality and detail to instant replay on television.
“If someone said that’s XYZ brand of baseball, and you bring up the video and it’s actually ABC brand of baseball, then that’s irrefutable. And that’s exactly what (the inspector) has now in terms of court’s evidence,” he says.
In addition to allowing police to meet evidence conformance standards set by courts, Tynan says, digitizing video surveillance also helps protect them from possible liabilities. A prisoner or other person brought in for questioning, for instance, may wrongfully claim an officer mistreated them in a situation. “Now they have irrefutable proof that they indeed handled it in a professional manner.”
The new system also provides a completely reliable redundancy feature, Mifflin says. The setup includes a primary and secondary system. The primary system, which monitors almost every area of the headquarters, operates day and night. If for any reason it breaks down, an alarm sounds (notifying IT staff) and the secondary system immediately takes over and continues recording.
“We know that even if we have a catastrophic failure, we will still have video. And that’s vitally important. If through the course of the night we have a large volume of prisoners, it’s absolutely important to keep watch on those folks all the time,” he says.
Reliable redundancy means that the new system requires much less time to manage and maintain. “At this point, it’s a maintenance-free system,” Mifflin says, adding it’s much easier for non-IT people to use. It has also greatly reduced the amount of time officers need to prepare video information — searching, playing back, identifying and copying to DVDs — they want to use as evidence.
The advantage of digitization in policing is obvious, but Tynan believes many other groups and industries will adopt the new technology in the next few years as costs continue to decline and come into line with analogue. HD means businesses have fewer cameras to maintain (one 16-megapixel camera, for instance, can replace 50 standard cameras) and lower labour costs, and he believes that it will soon be deployed in facilities such as water treatment and food processing plants, school campuses, arenas and stadiums.
“What we’re finding is once an organization gets a taste of having HD as a tool, they have some very quantifiable ways of justifying the high definition system, either by reduced labour hours or reduced investigation time or meeting compliance requirements,” Tynan says.
Beyond headquarters, the cameras can be used in remote areas to allow police to keep watch on a particular spot; after setting up a tripwire through the software, police can easily see how many intruders there are and whether they have a right to be there. That will help police determine the size and nature of their response, Tynan says.
And while Mifflin won’t divulge whether Chatham-Kent has used the system in criminal investigations, he suggests its uses go beyond monitoring. “It is both effective in daylight and at nighttime in terms of identifying very intricate details,” he says. “To use this product in investigations would be extremely beneficial for police services.”