BT Redcare's i-Witness digital CCTV data storage technology was chosen by Sussex Police because of its ability to efficiently store, retrieve and output evidential quality image data.
Problems with analogue
Sussex Police's Eastbourne CCTV control room is the monitoring centre for the community safety CCTV systems at 12 towns and villages across East Sussex. The CCTV monitoring runs 24/7 and involves a total of 80 cameras.
Before its upgrade to digital, the Eastbourne monitoring centre used analogue recording onto SVHS tape, using a multiplexer to record up to nine cameras per tape in 1 frame per second time-lapse mode. However, with SVHS recorders becoming harder and harder to maintain or replace, and with digital storage technology becoming a cost effective alternative, in early 2006 Sussex Police made the decision upgrade the system to a digital storage and retrieval solution.
The move to i-Witness
Sussex Police operates four CCTV control rooms - and one of them - the Bognor control room - already had a digital recording facility. "So we knew what digital could do for us," says Brian Watkinson, Area Supervisor for the Sussex Police CCTV project. "However," he says, "while it's doing what we're looking for, I have to say that I was underwhelmed when I saw it. Certain aspects of the end-user capability were rather long-winded."
"My idea of the move to digital was to improve our product by reducing operator input - in terms of the number of operations they have to perform. I was looking for more of the processes to be automated. That's one of the advantages that digital technology ought to be able to deliver. So we looked again at the specifications we had set out for the earlier system and tightened them up in certain areas as far as user operation and the ability to access the stored information. During the run-up period to our decision to go with the BT Redcare i-Witness system we looked at various other options including the digital system we had already installed at our Bognor control room," he says.
"But we decided that the i-Witness system was a better solution. Some of the digital recording systems currently on the market are repurposed from equipment designed for other uses. That's not the case with i-Witness - it's been designed for the purpose."
The BT Redcare i-Witness system went live on November 2, 2006, following a two-month period of parallel operation in tandem with the out-going analogue SVHS system, and is now recording feeds from 60 cameras. Brian explains the benefits of the i-Witness system:
Fast Data Retrieval "First of all, we can get instant play-back. With i-Witness we can retrieve an image from just moments ago. And we can search by date or time."
Automatic Data Management "The digital system has removed the need for tape management. The system has its own management system. It retains everything for 28 days, after which time it automatically cleans itself."
Evidential Quality "One of the main criteria for the switch to digital was to get an increase in the quality of the data being stored and retrieved - and with i-Witness that's certainly been achieved. It's been remarkable. In some cases the improvement in definition has been stunning, especially when we're working in very low light conditions. Our operators are now able to produce evidential quality images under all conditions - which wasn't possible before."
Efficient Evidence Delivery "With i-Witness we can quickly identify the area we want to burn and with just two clicks the information is retrieved. If we have an incident that has moved along a street and has been captured on more than one camera, we can decide, say, that we want to view or burn Camera 1 from 12.04 to 12.05 and Camera 6 from 12.05 to 12.09, and we can just click two times and cut out that data. Three hours of data takes just minutes to copy. In some instances it is better if the police officer is the person that actually makes the recording. With i-Witness it's done in seconds and the officer is able to leave in minutes with the data they have come for."
Audit Trail, Security & Confidentiality "Everything is password protected and there's a comprehensive in-built audit system that keeps a record log of each operator's activity. As well as that, we have our own audit system which ensures that nothing leaves the room without there being a solid audit trail. There is a lot of legislation which we've got to pay cognisance to - data protection and human rights, for example. And in these terms the i-Witness system is a total success. It's a stand-alone system, it's not networked and we control everything that comes out of it."
Tailored Solution "Normally you'd buy a package off the shelf and what you get is what you get. But that's not been the case here. It's been a two-way process, and BT Redcare has been very responsive to feedback. They've been only too willing to improve the package for the way that we work."
Support "You can't fault the back-up - it's brilliant. The system is managed by BT Redcare. The BT engineers are just a phone call away if we get any problems - but so far we haven't had any!"
Tangible Results "With i-Witness we are getting much better pictures and our chances of identifying offenders and suspects have been increased. The fact that i-Witness gives us, effectively, an instant replay facility has already been used to get confirmation of an identity and an arrest in five minutes - rather than seven hours and five minutes, as it used to be on the old system. Very soon after the i-Witness system went live we had a major incident and we had to provide all the images from across five towns because of an attempted murder. With the old system the police would have to come and seize all the tapes. Now it's all there on the hard drive and that's the best evidence we could endeavour to put in front of the courts."
The Future "We are currently extending the system, adding a capability to do spot recording. With that we'll be able to record the live feeds at 25 frames per second from up to six cameras at any given time - as selected by the operators - directly on the i-Witness system."