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January 31, 2005
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New Orleans Technology Gets Tough on Crime

One of the unforgettable images from this weekend''s Iraq terror and election was watching on television images or terrorists taken from a drone.

Those type of digital pictures are now becoming even more common place in our cities to fight crime.

The City of New Orleans is employing a new, high-tech approach to fighting crime by deploying a network of IP-based cameras citywide to provide infrastructure protection and increased crime fighting capability.

When conceiving ideas for a solution to fight crime and boost security for the City, officials tapped into many different technologies, selecting Sony Electronics? SNC-RZ30N cameras as the "eyes" of the system, and then incorporating the latest in networking, wireless communications, telecommunications and fiber optics.

"Leveraging cutting-edge technology to find creative, cost effective solutions has been a top priority in my administration," said Mayor C. Ray Nagin. "With this system in place, it will be like virtual police patrolling our streets, deterring and fighting crime." One of the jobs of the city''s Chief Technology Officer, Greg Meffert is to ensure the city is employing the right technology that is in sync with the city''s other technology. Meffert will be a guest participant on Bayoubuzz''s online and telephone conference called "Tech In The Cities" along with Keith Thibodeaux, the CTO of Lafayette.

In the case of this crime fighting technology, the Sony cameras are configured into systems that are mounted high on power poles above city streets, and have the power to pan, tilt and zoom to help police identify and apprehend criminals. Many of these cameras are currently watching over crime "hot spots" throughout the Sixth Police District in New Orleans.

These powerful IP cameras can read a license plate from hundreds of feet away, and feature remote-controlled pan/tilt/zoom, a 25X optical zoom lens, day/night and wireless capabilities. Images captured on the street are digitized and sent via the city?s network to a main server archive for Internet-based monitoring from any location -- whether it?s police headquarters or a patrol vehicle.

"Camera technology from Sony has continued to advance to provide amazingly clear, crisp, quality images," said Phil Whitebloom, director of Business Development for Government and Education for Sony Electronics Inc. "Those advances coupled with high-quality Internet and broadband capabilities make for a surveillance system which allows law enforcement to see detail that could never be seen before."

The New Orleans surveillance camera project is expected to be fully deployed by the end of the year, and will be one of the largest in the country.

Cameras "Walk a Beat"

With their pan/tilt/zoom capability, the SNC-RZ30N cameras can be programmed to, in effect, walk a beat just like a police officer walks a beat on the street. The camera can be programmed to capture wide angle shots down a street or to capture close-up shots of people and vehicles. They can even zoom in to deliver crisp, clear images of vehicle license plates.

"The surveillance cameras are virtual police officers out on the street corners in high-crime areas," said Detective Mike Carambat of the New Orleans Police Department. "When we investigate a crime captured by the surveillance cameras, those cameras become a cop who has already done a greater part of the investigation,"

According to Detective Carambat, another advantage of the Sony cameras is that the clear images captured by these cameras make the perfect witness, providing identification-quality images that will hold up as evidence in court.

"One of the greatest challenges in police work is getting victims and witnesses to cooperate with an investigation all the way through to prosecution," said Carambat. "These surveillance cameras give us the perfect witness -- a witness that will never tell a lie, has total recall and will always cooperate with the police throughout the investigation and prosecution."

New Technologies Make It Possible

Recent advancements in the types of technologies used in this solution are what made it possible for the City of New Orleans to deploy this ambitious and innovative citywide security project.

"The technology has evolved to a point where we can now implement these kinds of programs," said Ellen Dollacker, Certified Protection Professional. "In the past, stringing cable and power to each camera was very cumbersome. Now we can transmit the video and the protocol to the camera wirelessly, which makes this technology the future in surveillance and homeland security, and is really what is driving the trend in municipal security."

According to City officials, the network cameras were a key factor in ensuring that the City could capture and transmit identification-quality images to help fight crime. Wireless technologies allow officers to monitor the cameras from police vehicles and off-site locations.

"The advanced multi purpose technology of these cameras brings New Orleans both defense in depth for high priority hard and soft homeland security targets along with a huge increase in crime reduction capability," said Colonel Terry Ebbert Director of Homeland Security for the City of New Orleans. "Our ability to protect citizens and structures just received an unbelievable boost."

Collaboration Key to Successful Implementation

The New Orleans security camera initiative brought together a range of technologies and companies to make the project work.

"The most important aspect of this project was the integration of several different technologies," said Greg Meffert, chief technology officer for the City of New Orleans. "We brought together the wireless technology, the IP camera technology and the digital video recorders to create a unique, citywide security system."

Southern Electronics, the project?s general contractor, put together a team of technology partners to deploy the system.

"There were basically three technologies that we had to integrate in this project. The first was finding a camera that had the ability to communicate from an IP standpoint on an Ethernet network. The second was getting the cameras mounted on a light pole powered by the public power grid. And the third was finding a network and the capability of bringing those camera images back to the district stations," said Iggie Perrin, president of Southern Electronics and project coordinator.

In addition to the Sony IP cameras, Southern Electronics and the City of New Orleans selected Active Solutions to design the networks and housing that would make it possible for the cameras to be installed on power poles and connected directly to the power grid, and Bellwhether Technologies, Verge Wireless and Robinson Industries to provide the communications components of the project.

Community Involvement Helps Support the Project

Another unique aspect of the New Orleans citywide security project is its adopt-a-camera program. The city has set up a Web site (www.iseecrime.com) which allows citizen groups, neighborhood organizations, businesses, churches and other community organizations to adopt a camera. The program allows organizations to pay for a camera and place that camera in a location of their choice. This initiative establishes a partnership with community groups to help fund the program and broaden the city?s security canopy by increasing the number of cameras rolled out under this program.

Nationwide Trend

New Orleans has one of the largest and most technologically advanced surveillance programs and is on the leading edge of a growing national trend for using technology to help fight crime. Other municipalities, ranging from Chicago to smaller towns like Arlington, Texas, have also implemented or are implementing similar surveillance camera programs for crime fighting and homeland security support.

"The federal government and the Department of Homeland Security make grants to cities for security projects, and we are definitely seeing a trend toward using these grants to fund projects in the area of IP monitoring and security," said Whitebloom.

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