R.I. Police Get "Video Livestreaming" Technology For On-The-Scene Criminal Investigations


NEWPORT, R.I. - U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., visited the city Friday with a $150,000 federal grant to help equip the Police Department with "video livestreaming." The technology will allow the department to keep an eye on the Pell Bridge, monitor the traffic situation in the city during special events and, eventually, to be used in on-the-scene criminal investigations.

The money is an installment toward a wireless network that will allow a total of 16 cameras to be mounted on the bridge, at Bellevue Avenue and Memorial Boulevard, on America''s Cup Avenue, along the waterfront and at other locations. The cameras will broadcast video directly to the police station via a secured radio transmission frequency.

Eventually, the wireless network will allow cameras held by police officers to broadcast back to the station.

Edward F. Lavallee, the Police Department''s research and development administrator, said the cost of the network is $800,000. He said the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency already has provided a $120,000 grant. With some other funding, the department has about $300,000 toward what is officially known as the "Newport Area Interoperable Surveillance Network," Lavallee said.

Police Chief Charles F. Golden said the system will be linked with a Global Positioning System that is being developed for the city.

During a press conference held at the police station Friday, Golden, Lavallee and Sgt. Daniel Dvorak explained some of the practical applications of the new technology, including how it will change criminal investigations, traffic monitoring and surveillance.

Golden used the example of a police officer responding to a call at a home with an armed suspect inside. The officer could aim the camera at the house and show the scene to commanding officers in the station. The GPS system would allow the officers to view the house in 3-D on a computer monitor, as well as possible entry points, the neighboring properties and possible surveillance points.

"We would be able to manipulate the 3-D photos to determine tactics," Golden said.

Once the link is set up, private locations with video equipment - such as banks or stores - could convert their video to a digital signal and broadcast it into the Police Department''s wireless network, Dvorak said.

"If a crime was in progress or suspicious activity taking place, they could transmit the video signals to us whenever they wanted to," Dvorak said.

Police officers with video cameras will be able to broadcast images of suspects and, with additional equipment, even fingerprints back to the police station, where they can be compared to those stored in a computer data base.

But Lavallee said the equipment would be used mainly for traffic monitoring during special events, or monitoring conditions on the Pell Bridge during winter storms or high winds.

Peter M. Janaros, director of engineering for the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority, said cameras on the bridge would assist with homeland security measures. He said they would provide an overview of much of Narragansett Bay. In time, the Mount Hope Bridge could be included in the network, Janaros said.

Dvorak said other applications also could be developed. During a special event, such as the Fourth of July celebration, the Newport Jazz Festival or a Tall Ships visit, Dvorak could write out "Newport is heavily congested" on his PDA - personal digital assistant - and the warning would appear almost instantaneously on message boards set up on the outskirts of the city, he said.

Chafee said the federal government has other reasons to provide funding toward the network.

"Newport is one of the world''s most beautiful destinations, and at the height of the busy tourist season, there can be substantial challenges for public safety first-responders," Chafee said. "Risks to the security of the harbor and the bridge would have a significant ripple effect throughout our state, as well as on the naval operations that take place here."

The Coast Guard and the Navy, as well as local and state public safety agencies, "will have early indications of threats and risks through this new communication system," he said.

Chafee recently was assigned to the Senate''s Homeland Security Committee, where he said he said he will continue his efforts to obtain funding for new initiatives.

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