By Synectics Security Networks
Islington road scene (Photo by Synectics Security Networks)
London’s inner-city borough of Islington has a population of almost 200,000 residents and is an area of significant social contrasts. It features one of the largest areas of urban Georgian architecture, a varied mix of retail facilities, restaurants, bars and clubs. Encompassing two Westminster parliamentary constituencies, Islington and Finsbury, it was famously Tony Blair’s residence previous to his election, and has been home to many famous residents, past and present, including actress Neve Campbell, and writers Douglas Adams, Nick Hornby and George Orwell. This progressive area of London continues to enjoy firm community links, fuelling resurgence in business and building development over recent years, the most recent of which being the new Emirates stadium, home to Arsenal FC. A key element of this resurgence has been a concentrated effort from the council to secure the borough and protect its residents via an increased police presence, backed by a comprehensive borough-wide CCTV system. The new Islington surveillance system was planned as an expansion of the existing Kings Cross scheme that entered service in 1997, but the system had subsequently reached its maximum capacity and was eclipsed by the rapid developments in modern CCTV technology. Islington’s new ￡650,000 CCTV control room facility features an impressive monitor wall with over 160 square feet of video display area, including 48 CRT monitors, 3 back projection screens and 8 TFT displays. Specified by systems designer Cognetix and installed by the prime contractor Tyco Fire & Integrated Solutions - Traffic and Transportation, to address the unique issues faced within the Borough of Islington, the system has been designed to effectively tackle the issues highlighted in a borough-wide government initiated campaign; to combat crime and prostitution in the area and remove drugs from its streets.
Islington’s CCTV control room (Photo by Synectics Security Networks)
17 km fiber-optic backbone cable linking over 120 cameras, feeds information to the control room, providing visual covering of the Borough of Islington from Kings Cross, through to Finsbury Park and Archway. This comprehensive camera coverage affords Islington’s command and control room operators an unparalleled view of the borough. With system designers Cognetix placing each camera in a pre-qualified, audited location, each unit effectively gathers the maximum amount of information possible from its specific scene of coverage. This economical camera placement, coupled with experienced, SIA qualified control room operators secures an efficient audit trail from the very start of the evidential process. This evidential audit trail was particularly important when specifying both the control and recording aspects of the system, an issue Cognetix addressed by specifying a Synectics solution. In the control room, Islington joins many other London boroughs, including The City and Camden, to deploy the use of Synectics’ SynergyPro control system. Utilizing over six positions, installed by Tyco Fire & Integrated Solutions - Traffic and Transportation, the system’s intuitive operator interface furnishes each user with a fast route to all common system functions. In addition to this, supervisors now have the ability to monitor system usage and override its operation if and when necessary.
One of the more commonly used functions of SynergyPro is its ‘Incident’ (in progress) feature. This is used by Islington’s operators during the course of tracking ‘live’ events on-screen, to create a fully documented audit trail of the incident. The ‘Incident’ feature also locks-out other operators from using a specific ‘live’ camera during the crucial incident tracking period. This is of particularly important operational value to Islington staff, as their system is connected to several other London boroughs via the TVNP network (via a Synectics TVNP interface), allowing operators to access cameras across other areas of the city, and in turn other systems operators to access Islington’s cameras. With any other potential user from another borough system ‘locked-out’, operators can be confident of uninterrupted live incident tracking. During this time, the date, along with the start and finish time for each event is stored automatically within the evidential video created, and tagged with a full audit trail of information, indexed to the operator’s initials. Using this facility, the Islington team can be confident that when tracking an event, their actions are recorded and fully documented for future reference, if required, for evidential purposes. SynergyPro’s ‘Prioritized Supervisor Access’ permits the tracking of a particular event to be scrutinized. This reveals which cameras were used to view an incident, how and when they were moved, the sequence of camera switching, and which control room operator was controlling them at that time. In practice, this has proved to be a powerful resource, particularly in the event that a prosecution arise from a tracked incident. A watertight audit trail means that when digital evidence is passed to the police for subsequent submission in court, all parties involved can be confident in the authenticity of the prosecution evidence supplied. Any incident requiring additional support can be assisted by the control room’s ability to route ‘live’ camera video via SynergyPro’s ‘Follow Me’ feature, directly to Police Control at Bow Police Control. Operators can feed live events directly to the remote monitor, affording police controllers the ability to follow a situation as it develops; enabling them to assess and commit the correct level of response for any incident. This means that professional police assessment can be in ‘virtual’ attendance at any relayed incident, via their video wall. The resultant effective police deployment at each of these incidents has proved to be an invaluable asset in protecting the Islington community. Used in conjunction with SynergyPro, the control of cameras’ PTZ functions can also be performed with the aid of the multi-functional ‘Navigator’ joystick control unit. Featuring side-mounted buttons, these can be assigned to user specific functions, such as to enable the selection of the ‘Next’ camera on a geographical basis i.e., North, South, East or West of the current camera be viewed. Monitors can also be selected using a combination of function button and joystick. The Navigator can be used to select DVR playback control too, controlling playback speed and direction, providing the operator with simple, seamless interaction between camera and playback control functionality using SynergyPro. The number of cameras controlled in the borough means that operators in the control room devote their time to manually controlling key cameras, based on their specialist knowledge of the area. To ensure cameras do not remain static for long periods of time, the system employs PTZ camera tours. Intuitively programmed through the SynergyPro control software, these are split into three variants; Day Tours, which look at road intersections and the main shopping areas, etc., Rush-hour Tours, that survey public transport bottle necks such as bus queues and tube stations, and Night-time Tours, which keep a watchful eye over pubs, clubs and cash machines. George Heath, Islington’s CCTV Control Room manager explains, “These pre-set tours reinforce the presence of the system, as residents and potential offenders can see the cameras moving, maximizing their effectiveness as a deterrent, while ensuring all our cameras gather the maximum amount of useable visual information possible.”
Accompanying the award-winning control solution at Islington is Synectics’ equally revolutionary Time Lapse Later (TLL) digital recording solution. George Heath explains Islington’s decision to ‘go digital’, “With our old analogue recording system in the Kings Cross control room, we experienced drawbacks on a daily basis; firstly there was the usual tape management issues, needing to ensure that each tape was changed at regular intervals, this would absorb a great deal of our staffs time during each working day. Secondly, if an incident was captured on the system, we were forced to wait for the inserted video cassette to finish recording before we could retrieve it from the recorder and pass the footage on for police review. The Synectics TLL system is a natural partner to our control solution and using it, we are now able to instantly review any captured footage and immediately equip the police with the vital evidence they need for an effective prosecution.” Heath’s use of the Synectics TLL solution allows the automatic intelligent redistribution of the digital storage capacity and affords any of the system’s selected cameras to be recorded in real-time. Automatically recording whichever camera(s) the operator is using, it enables highly detailed, broadcast quality images to be captured at the very start of the recording process i.e., when it is liable to contain the most ‘evidential value’. Only later, after a three day period is time-lapsing introduced; to reduce the frame rate of the stored evidence down to eight frames/second for four days, then down to one frame/second for the remaining 30 days, correspondingly reducing the digital storage capacity required for its retention. In addition, unlike with standard digital recording systems, Islington’s Synectics TLL recordings employ very high-pixel count images, measured in Common Interchange Format (CIF). Typically 4 CIF, these recordings are four times more detailed (by pixel count) than those commonly offered, permitting more detailed recognition; a crucial factor in the presentation of key evidential information in court. Islington’s vast camera network creates a huge amount of visual information to process and potentially retain for further investigation. Catering for this, Islington’s experienced operators utilize SynergyPro’s ‘Evidence Locker’ management feature. A robust server configured to handle and store video evidence, the Evidence Locker provides a useful resource, acting as a central point for evidence management. Providing a full managerial audit trail, all usage is logged onto a database, and for future authentication purposes, a unique 128-bit MD5 hashing encryption code is created with every minute of video footage. If a copy of footage is required to be taken off-site, for example, by one of the police officers who frequently visit the control room to gather evidence for prosecution, the system saves the video clip and an evidence hashing code, logged and detailed in the form of a ‘Digital Evidence Certificate’ to prove its legitimacy. Forming a direct link between the public and the Islington control room is a ‘help-point’ located in the Nags Head area of Islington. This specially designed Kiosk affords members of the public a direct link to control room operators 24/7. Use of the help-point triggers two of the system’s PTZ cameras to be targeted on the kiosk, allowing the control room’s SIA trained operators to make a full assessment of the situation, initiating help from the blue-light services if necessary.
“As control room operators, we deal with many different challenges on a daily basis,” explains one of Islington’s experienced CCTV controllers. “One minute we can be monitoring an unlicensed street trader, the next we can be directing police traffic cars to a serious incident.” Heath continues, “Our experienced operators also assist with football matches at the newly completed Emirates Stadium. On match days we are in close contact with the police and our cameras are used to closely monitor footfall crowds to and from the ground. “In the short time the new system has been live, we have used the Synectics encrypted video evidence to support a variety of different convictions. These have been as diverse as confidence tricksters defrauding passers by of cash, to a foiled kidnap attempt.” Since the launch of the new command and control room, Synectics surveillance technology has made a real impact on Islington’s streets, as Heath summarizes, “The comprehensive new camera network has had a very warm response from the public, with many residents telling us that they feel safer to go about their daily business. Our most recent statistics note a dramatic fall in common types of street crime since the system was introduced. These results are very encouraging for our hard-working team and the CCTV system investment. In my experience, the benefits of the displacement of crime through an effective CCTV system are felt right across the community; a lower level of street crime results in the area becoming a more pleasant place for both residents and visitors to spend time in. This overall benefit typically leads to an influx of new businesses to the area and the inevitable increasing demand for residences. “The evidential value of good quality surveillance footage with a water-tight audit trail also benefits the community greatly. The production of evidential quality footage of incident means many prosecutions do not go to trial, leading to the accused entering a guilty plea when they are told that evidential quality video footage exists. This results in officers not having to spend long periods of time in court as part of the prosecution’s case against offenders. Instead, they spend more time where they can make the most difference, on the streets -- fighting crime and disorder and protecting the community.”
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