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Smart Application: City of Hartford Crime Centre

by Benchmark

Taking an intelligent approach to system design can often allow an end user to realise a better solution, often with capabilities beyond the sum of its parts. By applying technologies in a bespoke and specific way, the results can enable a more holistic approach to overall security and safety. When the City of Hartford created its crime centre, the capabilities of its system were fully leveraged.

Modern law enforcement often faces something of a dilemma. Constricting budgets can impact in the number of officers deployed to front-line duties which places a greater emphasis on the use of technology. However, the same budgetary constraints often mean that legacy technology cannot be upgraded. The result can be fewer officers relying on out-dated systems to try and remain effective.

Many police services end up using fairly restrictive and complex systems that can hinder rather than help in investigations. Huge amounts of captured data goes unprocessed because of the time and effort involved in analysing it. The ability for a police force to act dynamically is restricted because the systems implemented in the past cannot leverage current developments with regard to mobility, flexible communications and advanced processing capabilities.

The shame of this is that many technologies in the security market have advanced exponentially in the past few years and as such make the creation of dynamic real-time data gathering and analysis a simpler task. Today’s smart implementations can empower the police and other law enforcement authorities, as well as commercial and industrial organisations, to operate leaner but significantly more effective solutions.

Because of the modular approach taken by an increasing number of manufacturers, new and emerging system components can be added as and when required, which does mean that with a solid core for a system, functionality and smart benefits can be included as resources allow.

The Hartford approach

Sergeant Johnmichael O’Hare of the Hartford Police Department sees the benefits in being able to exploit technology and data to aid in police investigations. Before the creation of the Hartford crime centre he made use a car equipped with three different laptops to run various parts of the system. It also meant that he needed to have a data analyst with him to use the technology as they worked.

At the time it was the only way that the City of Hartford Police could gain valuable insight into established data and often it was essential in cases where there was no other chance of arrest.

One of the biggest issues came in regard to drug and organised crimes. Often witnesses would not cooperate and the data was the only way to piece together events. Without it, cases simply could not be progressed.

When the decision was made to build the City of Hartford crime centre it was decided that at its heart would be an open platform VMS from Milestone Systems. This would enable the addition of third party devices along with a number of advanced integrations with analytics and other tools to enhance the overall performance. The core VMS is Milestone’s XProtect Corporate flagship product.

The Hartford Police Department’s crime and data intelligence centre includes a Smart Wall with thirty 55 inch 4K video monitors. Analysts can view video and other data feeds – such as information from the emergency 911 dispatch system, social media mining tools or traffic status reports – to monitor events.

The police department also makes extensive use of high quality cameras from Axis Communications. These are used for both permanent and temporary deployments. The latter approach works well for special events and the police have used trucks with cameras mounted on them to ensure coverage is complete.

In testament to the quality achieved from the Axis devices, a plan is being implemented to assist businesses and organisations in the city to deploy Axis-based solutions with captured video being shared with the Hartford Police Department.

Added benefits

One example of how the crime centre makes use of the additional benefits of integration with the VMS is the use of synopsis software from Briefcam. This can highlight all activity in a viewed scene over several hours and present that information in a short synopsis video clip. Each motion activity is presented with a visible time stamp. While the synopsis video includes a number of consecutive incidents in one scene, simply clicking on the relevant time stamp will display that specific video segment. Synopsis software, such as that offered by Briefcam or other vendors, can be a valuable search and recovery tool, but the Hartford Police Department have used it in a slightly different way as well.

Sergeant Johnmichael O’Hare explains that the department gathered video of a street scene to assess pedestrian traffic between a public transport hub and an area where the police suspected drug dealing was taking place. Synopsis software and flow analysis identified a lot of foot traffic between the transport hub and a residential block.

Filtering that further to look at specific doorways showed that one residence was receiving an abnormally high number of daily visitors, way beyond what would be expected in a normal situation.

This data processing could be carried out quickly and easily, and as a result it identified an address worthy of further investigation. Achieving that result without the technologies in question would have required a significant amount of surveillance man-hours and a modicum of luck.

Another benefit of video analysis that is used by the Hartford Police Department is heat mapping. One example is that a suspected drug dealer was believed to be operating outside a parade of shops. Video surveillance of the general scene was captured over a period of time. The police were then able to analyse the footage using heat mapping. By identifying the suspect and mapping his activity they spotted that whilst he spent a lot of time walking around the immediate area, there was one specific hotspot at the corner of a building next to a telegraph pole.

When an arrest was made, the officers were aware of the hotspot and a quick search there allowed them to quickly locate the stash of drugs, concealed behind a loosened brick.

Again, the smart application of a technology usually highlighted as a benefit to retailers allowed the police to quickly gather evidence that otherwise would have required a high level of time and resources.

The Hartford Police Department makes use of ShotSpotter, an audio-based analytics tool that identifies gun fire and plots its location. That information is then sent back to the VMS. By linking this tool with The Hawkeye Effect geospatial mapping tool, which integrates with XProtect Corporate, the system can then automatically trigger absolute positioning PTZ cameras using the captured X-Y coordinates to cover entry and egress roads and other significant points within the area of the detected gunshot.

The VMS integration with ShotSpotter and The Hawkeye Effect was a key requirement for the police department, which has expanded coverage of this part of the system to include every residential zone in the city limits.

In summary

By simply considering the scope of the technologies on offer and designing the system to meet specific briefs, the Hartford crime centre has created a solution that is both smart, flexible and cost-effective. It also enhances security in the city and enables more efficient policing.

Many of the elements being deployed are not specific to the law enforcement sector nor are they beyond the budgets of many businesses or organisations. What makes the solution exceptional is the way it has been designed to gain the maximum value from the various components. This illustrates that a truly smart solution can be created with the application of intelligent and well considered design and implementation.

Milestone XProtect Corporate

XProtect Corporate is a VMS designed for large-scale and high-security installations. It is built to ensure end-to-end protection of video integrity and boost the overall performance of a system with hardware accelerated video decoding. In addition to central management of all servers, cameras and users in a multi-site set-up, XProtect Corporate includes an integrated video wall for operators demanding situational awareness of any event.

The VMS supports failover servers, making it ideal for mission-critical installations that require continued access to live and uninterrupted video. It features a minimum recording rate of 3.1Gbps.

The system’s recording servers use a native 64-bit Windows implementation and an optimised database technology with RAM pre-buffering. Hot standby recording servers maintain video viewing and recording capabilities with minimal interruption in the event of system problems. XProtect Corporate also enables the use of edge storage as a complement to the central storage in the recording servers, with flexible video and audio retrieval based on schedules, events or manual requests, including the ability to combine central and edge-based video using scalable video quality recording (SVQR).

When creating smart deployments, XProtect Corporate’s Rules Engines allows AND/OR logic to be used when creating cause and effect triggers and actions. The simple approach to this enables the swift and simple creation of bespoke system event management, adding value in a wide range of scenarios.
XProtect Corporate supports hardware-accelerated video decoding. By shifting video decoding from the CPU to the GPU, increased system performance can be realised.

The system supports unlimited cameras or other devices, users and sites. The central management client simplifies system administration and the user client provides a slick management interface for users of differing permission levels. This is aided by the use of advanced rights management and flexible user permissions.

To facilitate simpler interactions for users, XProtect Corporate includes smart maps to deliver an overview of device locations and site layouts. The alarm manager provides overviews of security and system alarms for visual verification and the XProtect Smart Wall enables operators to share video, images, maps, alarms, messages and other data. Smart Search and Sequence Explorer functionality makes recovering evidential data a seamless and intuitive task.

Briefcam Syndex

Syndex from Briefcam is a video synopsis technology that condenses hours of video footage into short overviews that are a few minutes long. Each event is flagged within the synopsis video with a time stamp, and multiple events are displayed simultaneously.

When an end user wants to investigate an incident they simply watch the short synopsis video until they see the individual or object they wish to investigate. Simply clicking on the associated time stamp will then call up the single video clip for full analysis.

Syndex allows rapid video search, review and analysis via a front-end which is both simple to understand and fast to use. The software can be simply integrated with Milestone’s XProtect Corporate VMS as a plug-in.

The synopsis software can filter certain activities by object type or colour. It also has the capacity to provide accurate detection regardless of varying lighting and weather conditions such as snow and rain.

Small and subtle objects can be detected, as can objects in the frame appearing against a background of the same colour, through sensitivity to differences in both colour and texture.

Finally, if a tracked target disappears from the video then reappears, for example if they pass behind another object, it is treated as one event. However, if the target leaves and re-enters the detection boundaries, it can be logged as separate incidents.

The Hawkeye Effect

The Hawkeye Effect has previous been the winner of a Benchmark Innovation Award. It is a software tool that uses GPS location mapping to drive PTZ cameras, tracking events as they happen.

The system utilises absolute positioning PTZ cameras and a trigger mechanism – in the Hartford Police Department case an alert from the ShotSpotter system – to track events and provide real-time visual verification of intrusions. It can also use laser detection or any other input that delivers exact coordinates.

Because an exact location is known, the movements of suspects can be tracked and visually verified, allowing users to maximise resources, ensuring that differing levels of response are implemented.

When the trigger data is combined with video surveillance and geospatial mapping, it creates a smart solution for high risk sites.

Automated actions can be triggered when the system is linked with a VMS software package which supports rules conditions, such as Milestone’s XProtect Corporate or any XProtect + VMS package.

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