Wireless video surveillance proves to be an economical solution for public safety
- By Pramod Akkarachittor
- Nov 01, 2011
Small cities are no longer insulated from heinous crimes that have
traditionally been associated with much larger cities such as New
York and Los Angeles. Take the small community of Easton,
Pa., a city with a population of 27,000, located 60 miles south of
Nov. 29, 2007, started out much like any other day in Easton, but trouble was
brewing. Several members of the notorious Bloods street gang from Newark, N.J.,
were out for vengeance. Police allege that three individuals with the gang monikers
“Monster,” “T-Bone” and “G-Red” made the drive to Easton looking for Rene
and Lakimdel Edward Spring, who police suspected of committing two murders
in Newark and Jersey City, N.J..
What happened next shook Easton to its core: Police allege that Monster,
T-Bone and G-Red pulled up to an apartment building across the street from the
Easton Area Middle School on the 100 block of North 13th Street, known locally
as the West Ward. They allegedly made their way up to a second-story apartment
and executed three of its occupants: Alphe Rene, Aleah Hamlin and Chanel Armour,
who were not involved in what had happened in New Jersey. Lakimdel was
taking a shower and Rene was asleep in another room when they heard the gunshots.
They scrambled out of the second-story window.
This monstrous act resulted in the third, fourth and fifth deaths in Easton in
2007 and intensified the residents’ growing concerns about the area’s safety. The
city of Easton decided to take steps to make the area safer for its residents and
the children of the neighborhood school. The Easton Police Department (EPD)
jumped into action and applied for a Secure Our Schools federal grant.
A Modest Proposal
EPD put out an RFP, and Let’s Think Wireless, a wireless and security integrator
operating in the Northeast that has established long-term relationships with many
municipalities, provided what was deemed the best overall proposal to implement
a surveillance camera system along the street by the school to improve security and
ensure children would get to and from school safely.
Given that the city secured the funds through a grant, it needed a solution that
didn’t have recurring costs that would strain budgets and that had the potential
for easy expansion if the solution proved to be effective. So Let’s Think Wireless
partnered with Firetide to develop a solution that could provide a reliable highperformance
communication foundation that could enable surveillance cameras in
real-time and wouldn’t have the typical upkeep costs associated with these kinds of
deployments, which normally involve leasing expensive fiber cables.
The first phase was modest, including 13 Bosch 500 PTZ cameras and a handful
of Firetide’s mesh nodes. Almost immediately after the camera network was installed,
EPD noticed that crime dropped off in the area dramatically. Beyond that,
crimes that previously lacked witnesses—some of whom were too afraid to come
forward—were now being solved, and criminals were being taken off the streets.
Based on the success of the program, EPD advocated expanding the network
and video surveillance into other high-crime areas. Neighboring Northampton
County locations such as Wilson Borough and Lafayette College took notice and
began working with EPD to expand the system into their areas.
The Growth of a Network
Today there are 38 cameras installed and 31 Firetide mesh nodes, which Wilson
and Easton share and monitor. The sheriff’s office has more than 80 additional
cameras that are being integrated with the system. Between the two cities, there are
now four monitoring stations on the network. Police officers or volunteers monitor
the stations 24/7. They monitor special events or provide insight to critical details
to officers on crime scenes before they arrive, which has increased their safety.
“We have done a lot of planning with the school district, Wilson Borough,
Northampton County and Lafayette College to pool our resources to come up
with the best possible solution that meets all of our combined needs,” said Easton
Police Chief Larry Palmer. “We realized early on that it was much more costeffective
and mutually beneficial for us to own, operate and share our systems and
expand them for the betterment of our collective communities.”
The network has grown to cover the Northampton corridor from the West
Ward school, which now includes the football stadium, to city hall and the police
station. It also has been expanded to the riverfront, amphitheater and the
downtown circle plaza. And due to the high bandwidth the Firetide mesh solution
provides, the city decided to give back to the community by offering free wireless
access along the Riverfront area.
“The intent was to build a larger, countywide video surveillance system that
could benefit the citizens in a myriad of ways, and we are seeing that come to fruition,”
said Mickey Branson from Let’s Think Wireless. “From Easton to Wilson,
they have seen crime steadily decreasing through a combination of the dedication
of the local police force combined with the surveillance network, which have proven
instrumental in providing footage that is regularly being leveraged to further
investigations and convict criminals.”
For the future, Let’s Think Wireless is working to install a fully redundant
backbone between all of the agencies, Lafayette College is looking
to soon have cameras up and running across the campus, and
city hall is looking to install cameras throughout the building,
which will be added to the network.
Pramod Akkarachittor is the director of product management at Firetide.