Plano, Texas, Deploys Citywide Camera Security Platform

Though just in the beginning stages, the system will ultimately let police view feeds from multiple cameras throughout the city.
by | March 1, 2011

Jessica Mulholland

Jessica Mulholland is the associate editor of GOVERNING, and is also the associate editor of both Government Technology and Public CIO magazines.

Chicago, Houston, New York City -- even Arlington, Texas, for this year's Super Bowl -- have all tied disparate video security systems together so their respective police departments can view feeds from cameras around a city. Now, Plano, Texas, is implementing a similar solution.

"We have a lot of existing camera systems out there, but they are islands of information," says David Stephens, director of technology services for the Plano Department of Information Technology. "So we're looking at a way to make that a useful tool for police and public safety."

The goal, Stephens says, is for public safety to view events in real time so they can better prepare for the situation that they're about to enter. If there's a gunman at a district office or a school, for example, police can see what's happening while it's happening, versus remaining outside without a clear picture to guide their decision-making.

Ultimately, the ability to capture any type of video evidence regarding theft or vandalism to city property is a good thing, says Police Administrative Manager Glen Brashear.

System Implementation

The city's Department of Technology has been working on this concept for several years, Stephens says, noting that the ability to work with its partners -- city departments, school districts and other agencies -- to share data and ensure safety of residents is critical. While the IT department is taking the lead on the project, it is working closely with the police department to make sure its implementation is successful.

Initially, the camera feeds will just be aggregated and installed at various city agencies. "We are in the process of having the cameras installed for the purpose of increasing our security and increasing security at city facilities," Brashear says.

The next step will be to take camera feeds from traffic signal systems. Using these feeds, the police department can view what's going on -- if there's a pile up or accident -- and ensure the right types of vehicles are sent to the scene. "If we need to send ambulances too, we can send those immediately without having to wait for someone to call for assistance," Stephens says. "We can be a little more reactive with the services that we provide."

Next Steps

In the future, the Police Department anticipates putting the feeds to more and better uses, Brashear says. "If we have a situation or something that needs to be monitored, or something happens and we can capture the video evidence and go back [to it] for review [...] that would be where we want to get to in the future."

For most agencies and departments, Stephens says he and his team are still working with them to put the camera systems online for the police department to access -- they will roll it out facility by facility and ultimately put all the cameras throughout the city on the system. "We are going to maximize the use of public technology," he says. "We want to make sure that if we have resources -- meaning cameras -- out in facilities, that we utilize those resources."

Agencies are not required to join the security platform, but the Plano Independent School District is currently providing a feed from their camera system on a limited basis. The IT department is also approaching Dallas Area Rapid Transit and other agencies. "That way when they call for services, we are able to respond appropriately," Stephens says. "If SWAT or other specialized teams need to have additional resources deployed, they can have them deployed right at that time rather than having to wait for someone to get on scene to do an assessment."

While the security system's initial goal is physical security and building access, the future, as Stephens sees it, is using the system for more analytical purposes, such as correlating who enters a building.

"If someone leaves a package in a public place -- that can be viewed and responded to," he says. "There's a vehicle parked somewhere for too long in an area that it shouldn't be parked -- we would be able to remove it. That's the goal."

The use of video evidence is extremely valuable to any governmental agency wanting to protect its forces and its citizens, Brashear says. "It's another tool in the toolbox. It's not a magic bullet solution, but it's a great tool."


More from Columns