Tired of fiddling with videotapes, Brantford Police Services has become one of the first Canadian police departments to set up a digital video system in its headquarters.
Cameras linked by an Internet Protocol (IP) network automatically record suspect interviews, bookings and activity in most areas of the police station.
Whenever a suspect is brought into the station, interviewed, booked and put in a cell, everything that happens is recorded, explained Cathy Drinkwater, records and communications manager at Brantford Police Services. That provides evidence that can be used in court or in case of complaints against the police. But the previous system, like those in many police stations, relied on videotape recorders.
“We had to do it in a manual fashion,” Drinkwater explained, “which was turning on the VCR, turning it off, following the prisoner to move the VCR around.”
The new digital system uses motion sensors to activate cameras automatically. “There’s no manual intervention,” Drinkwater said.
The other major advantage is that the digital video is easily accessible when needed. Instead of looking through tapes to find what is needed, Drinkwater said, staff can now just enter the date and time when something was recorded and retrieve it instantly.
Digital video also allows remote access to recorded video, said Matthew Ross, head of product management at 4XEM Corp., the local company that supplied Brantford’s digital video system. And where they can use existing twisted-pair cabling, digital video systems are easier to expand. With conventional systems, “every time you add a camera you’re basically adding a coaxial cable to that location and then you’re basically adding a monitor,” Ross said.
In Brantford’s case, the cabling is new and separate from the police station’s data network, Drinkwater said. That’s partly because of police regulations that require certain systems to be isolated from any outside access. 4XEM had hoped to use some existing cabling, she said, but concluded that as the cabling was older there might be problems, and chose to install new cabling instead.
That decision added one unexpected complication to the implementation, Drinkwater says, but in spite of that the installation went “a lot faster than I thought it was going to go.”
Digital video is just beginning to catch on, Ross said, and surveillance systems are one of the principal uses. For two-year-old 4XEM, one of the challenges has been the fact that “a lot of people don’t know this technology has been available.” That includes the distributors who handle traditional closed-circuit television equipment. They are not familiar with digital technology, while computer dealers and integrators are only beginning to become aware of video applications. Ross predicted digital video will promote a shift in distribution channels with computer resellers taking over more of the video business. “In the larger corporations, it’s going to become an IT application.”
Relatively few police services have implemented digital video surveillance systems, Drinkwater said. One that has is the Metropolitan Toronto Police, to which Brantford Police Services paid a visit before implementing its own system.
IP video is also attracting some interest for simple desktop videoconferencing. ITBusiness.ca recently reported on national law firm Fraser Milner Casgrain’s trial of videophones for communication among its offices. Marc Seeman, practice leader for network convergence at IBM Canada in Markham, Ont., said internal collaboration, customer service through video kiosks and digital video surveillance are the most promising IP video applications at present.