Jun 26 2008

Creating a Safe Haven

This New Jersey community anticipates improving public safety with the rollout of a citywide wireless mesh network.

The city of Paterson, N.J., is rolling out a new wireless network that promises to be a powerful and cost-effective weapon for the city’s law enforcement officials when it goes live in July.

The $1 million Proxim Wireless mesh network will blanket Paterson, the third-largest city in New Jersey, with a population of 150,000. Paterson is 8.4 square miles and is located about 10 miles west of Manhattan. The city has 500 police officers on its police force, which is dealing with higher-than-average violent and property crime rates.

Dubbed Code Operation Paterson Shield, the new Proxim wireless mesh network operates at the 4.9 gigahertz public safety spectrum and supports 802.11 voice, data and video transmission. The network will support notebooks in squad cars, surveillance cameras in public places and new gunshot detection software.

“It all came down to one thing: How do we integrate our technology and put it under one umbrella network?’’ explained Michael Walker, police director for the city. The city is deploying eight ORiNOCO Public Safety Wi-Fi Mesh Access Points.

Until now, the city’s police force has used broadband mobile data service for the notebooks in its 200 squad cars. Now the city will use its own Proxim wireless network and reap significant monthly cost savings.

“The computers are cheap, but the Verizon air charges are huge when you’re talking about that many vehicles,’’ Walker says. “Now we don’t have to subscribe to a wireless carrier because we become our own carrier.’’

Lt. John Russo, commander of the police force’s strategic management division, says the city was spending $59 per month for each of its 100 Verizon Wireless AirCard licenses. The Proxim network is a good deal for the city because “it lets us control our destiny for billing purposes,’’ he says.

The new wireless network also will support 44 surveillance cameras positioned at busy intersections and crime-ridden neighborhoods. These cameras are monitored around the clock at police headquarters. Images from the cameras can be sent to squad cars so police officers can see crime scenes before they arrive.

“We started installing cameras two years ago, and we found it reduced our rates of homicides and home invasions,’’ Walker said. “We’ve seen crime move because of the cameras. We put a camera in an intersection, and then the gangs aren’t there any more … Now everyone is wanting cameras in their neighborhoods.’’

Once the surveillance camera images are available on the Panasonic Toughbook notebooks in the squad cars, the city’s police department anticipates being able to respond to criminal activity faster and with appropriate force.

“We get a lot more productivity out of an officer working 12 virtual beats with 12 surveillance cameras than by walking a beat,’’ Walker says. “If we have a call that there’s a gang at an intersection, the police officer on the surveillance camera can get there immediately and can advise the responding officer if the gang is still there, how large it is, if there is any evidence of weapons or whether we need more than one officer.’’

Walker says the surveillance cameras operate like a forward observer in the Army. “Our response time drops anywhere from five to 15 minutes to within a minute with the cameras,’’ he adds.

The final piece of Code Operation Paterson Shield is a gunshot location system. This real-time system detects the sound of gunshots using sensors located throughout the city. Once a gunshot has been detected, the surveillance cameras automatically zero in on the area where the gunshot was heard.

The City of Paterson previously had just one IT employee, but recently added three IT staff to support the new wireless network, notebooks, surveillance cameras and gunshot detection software.

Learning how to operate the network “has been pretty straightforward,’’ Russo says. “Once the network is up and running, we have a service contract and a five-year warranty on the eight radio repeaters, so there won’t be any additional costs.’’

Walker is hopeful that Code Operation Paterson Shield will make the city safer. “We’re cutting crime. We’re making some neighborhoods safer, and we’re saving money through the wireless system,’’ he says.