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Sarasota Thursday, May 14, 2009 9 years ago

Police eye surveillance system

by: Robin Roy City Editor

The Sarasota Police Department plans to install a high-tech surveillance system to monitor city streets and parks and wants businesses and homeowners associations to share in the cost.

“It’s not the choppy video you’d see at a convenience store,” said Lt. Jeff Karr, who has been researching the system. “It’s high resolution from as far away as a half mile.”

Sarasota police would install the infrastructure for the wireless, Internet-based system, and Karr hopes private businesses and citizens would supply the cameras.

The infrastructure would consist of a transmitter, possibly installed on top of the parking garage at Whole Foods Market, a signal relay on top of the County Administration Building on Ringling Boulevard and a receiver at the police station.

The total cost of the infrastructure could be between $150,000 and $175,000. Police Chief Peter Abbott wrote that cost into the bond for the new police station, which is currently under construction.

The police department has been speaking with different community groups and businesses, such as the Downtown Improvement District, Five Points Neighborhood Association, Selby Library and Sarasota Memorial Hospital, about purchasing cameras and plugging them into the surveillance system.

“We’re trying to set it up as a plug-in for anyone who wants to play,” Abbott said.

The Downtown Improvement District is already planning to play. Its board voted last week to budget $15,000 for the security equipment.

Top-of-the-line cameras for the system cost about $5,000, but Karr said less-expensive cameras would be sufficient in many areas around the city. The best cameras have night vision and can zoom, tilt and pan 360 degrees.

A company called Let’s Think Wireless makes the entire system, infrastructure and cameras. The city of Newark, N.J., is one of its biggest clients, with 150 cameras throughout the city, which have been credited for helping dramatically reduce crime and bring the murder rate to all-time lows.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker said criminals have “scattered like roaches” away from the areas covered by cameras.

In the next few weeks, Karr will travel to Newark and Bethlehem, Pa., which has installed the same surveillance system, to see how the program works in those cities.

Abbott said he envisions the officer at the police department’s front desk monitoring a bank of video screens to look for trouble. And he hopes homeowners associations will provide volunteers to look at the output from their own cameras.

According to Karr, Sarasota’s system could be operational in as little as six weeks.

“We’re trying to put the city in the 21st century, going into 22nd-century technology,” Karr said. “This will put us in the Jetsons’ age.”

The surveillance system from Let’s Think Wireless is more than just a camera. It can perform tasks that previously would have required non-stop human monitoring.

The cameras can:
• Recognize a moving object that is no longer moving, such as a briefcase being carried by someone who sets it down, leaves it there and walks away.

• Determine closed areas at set times, such as a park, and will track anyone who enters that area.

• Count the number of people who enter and exit a building, so officers know if someone walked into an office building and didn’t walk out by closing time.

• Focus on anyone loitering in an area known for criminal activity.
In each of these cases, the system sends an alarm to police to check out the infraction.

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