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New Orleans Police to use Wi-Fi

By April 27, 2004Uncategorized

FCWcom reports on an interesting use of Wi-Fi as a police video surveillance system:

New Orleans is using wireless technology to help it build a police video surveillance system out beyond the limits of wired networks to provide it with one of the first such citywide systems in the country. The wireless system will also be used to give cops using laptops or handheld systems almost instant access to video of suspected crimes happening on their beat.

The system uses Tropos Networks’ wireless technology to dynamically route the IP-based video traffic through a mesh network of Wi-Fi cells and back through nodes connected to the city’s wired network to a central video server. When an incident is noted, an alert can be flagged to an officer’s laptop and handheld unit along with the video feed from the camera at the site.

The City of New Orleans is also planning on deploying 1,000 cameras in high-crime areas around the metropolitan area. A while back I managed to talk to Greg Meffert, the City’s CIO, about this deployment. The cameras will not take continuous video, but instead will shoot high-res JPEGs. Also, the cameras will not be monitored by anyone; the purpose is to have photo data available in case a crime is committed, and then use that data in the prosecutorial effort. The City was averse to even attempting any type of real-time monitoring due to concerns about litigation.

I know that discussions of government-operated cameras bothers many people who are concerned about the potential abuse of civil liberties, but there are some factors that operate as practical limitations to abuse — at least for now. For example, it would be very hard to do live monitoring of 1,000 cameras, which by the way are only placed in public places, and only view public areas. The photo data that is captured from these 1,000 cameras will only be kept for 3 days (unless there is a crime incident that warrants its storage for use in a prosecution). Keeping the data for a short period of time is a practical necessity. The data from 1,000 cameras that operate 24 hours a day is huge, even when stored as JPEGs. Obviously, the cost of storage is dropping every day, but there is a practical limitation to how much photo data could be catalogued and accessed.

Also, the cameras are not set to any particular view; instead, they are programmed to randomly pan, tilt and zoom (they can rotate 360 degrees). Hence, there is no guarantee that a camera will have captured a usable picture even if a crime wascommitted in its vicinity. Lastly, and most importantly, the cameras are covered with a special plexiglass shield that is weatherproof and which can withstand an attack by an AK-47. The fact that the cameras have that capability is a subtle indication of the crime problem faced by a major metropolitan area like New Orleans.

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