Deputy James  Williams says video surveillance has reduced assaults in the Bay County Jail Annex.

Apr 20 2011

Keeping a Watchful Eye

Bay County, Fla., uses cutting-edge cameras and surveillance software to improve safety at the jail and courthouse.

The staff and inmates at Bay County Jail Annex in Panama City, Fla., experience fewer assaults and thefts thanks to cutting-edge network cameras and surveillance software monitoring the buildings and grounds.

Along with deterring inmates from committing crime, the deployment protects staff from allegations of misdeeds such as excessive use of force, says Deputy James Williams, who is in charge of IT purchases for the Bay County Sheriff's Office. "The bottom-line benefit is that there is a watchful eye on the jail at all times to ensure that our staff and our inmates are being protected," he adds.

Bay County Jail Annex houses up to 1,200 inmates, with an average daily population of 900 inmates. The jail employs 260 people, including law enforcement and correctional officers.  

Stepping Up Surveillance

Deputy James Williams says video surveillance has reduced assaults in the Bay County Jail Annex.

Photo: Victor Ramos

In 2009, the Bay County Sheriff's Office began installing IP cameras from Axis Communications. Today, the Bay County Jail Annex and the nearby Bay County Courthouse have 120 Axis cameras, including 216FD (fixed dome) models and 213 PTZ and 215 PTZ pivoting models with pan/tilt/zoom capabilities.

Video surveillance software from ipConfigure runs on a dedicated server with dual quad-core processors, 8 gigabytes of DDR3 RAM and 12 terabytes of storage. A duplicate server functions as backup, with mirroring capabilities between the two. The new surveillance system connects to legacy Cisco Systems Power over Ethernet (PoE) switches.

The Bay County Sheriff's Office surveillance system is advanced when compared with many of its peers. "A lot of jails are on antiquated, outdated analog technology when it comes to surveillance," says Brad Stice, national sales manager for ipConfigure, a veteran-owned small business. "We see more opportunities where jails are looking to replace their technology and go to truly IP-based video surveillance systems."

The county paid $120,000 for the surveillance system, which it funded through a technology grant from the state of Florida. The camera and surveillance software deployment replaced a closed-circuit TV system that could be viewed from only one control room and wasn't able to record video. With the new surveillance system, video can be accessed from any PC via a web browser, with access to the video feed under password protection.

The system also records video with cryptographic hashing so that it can be authenticated for use as evidence in criminal proceedings. The Sheriff's Office has used video clips captured by the Axis cameras and ipConfigure to press battery, theft and drug charges against inmates.

Cameras are positioned in the intake area where law enforcement performs the initial processing and pat-down of detainees. "There have been multiple circumstances where the street officers have missed evidence -- marijuana or crack cocaine -- and the person attempted to drop the drug in the intake area," Williams says. "It has been caught on tape, and we used the video as evidence."

Williams credits the new surveillance implementation with reducing the number of inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff assaults. "We rarely ever have thefts any longer because the inmates are aware that we review the video, and we have locked down many inmates for theft," Williams says.

The cameras have worked well, Williams says. So far, he hasn't experienced any failures or even had to restart the devices. "You don't always have to go with the most expensive to get good quality," he says.

The ipConfigure software price is based on a per-camera fee rather than per-server licensing, which has proved cost-effective for Bay County. Williams found the software easy to install because it is accessed through a browser. And he appreciates being able to view the video feeds from 30 cameras on one PC monitor. "I'm really impressed with this software,'' he says.

Last October, Bay County upgraded to the new 64-bit version of ipConfigure, which supports higher quality video and audio. "We had problems with the early install of the 64-bit version, but the tech support team has been excellent," Williams says.

In the future, the Bay County Sheriff's Office would like to purchase ipConfigure's license plate recognition capability. This feature can scan the license plates of vehicles driving by or parked at the jail, and can alert law enforcement if the vehicle is registered to a person of interest.

Tally Up the Benefits

IP surveillance systems offer several advantages over analog technology, notes John Honovich, analyst and author of the website.

"Cost is not everything," he says, pointing to benefits such as the ability to use existing PCs, servers and cabling, and easier expansion. The biggest advantage is higher quality video from megapixel cameras.

Here's the cost differential between IP and analog products for a 14-camera scenario, including 12 indoor cameras, 2 outdoor cameras and video recording for seven days:

  • IP products: $8,600
  • Analog products: $6,450
<p>Victor Ramos</p>

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