Mesh Networks: The Future of Police Patrolling

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has come a long way from relying on walkie talkies to hear descriptions of suspects on the run — now they can watch video of crimes in progress in real time.

Last year, the department installed 10 surveillance cameras and a multi-radio wireless broadband network, also known as a “mesh network,” throughout the infamous Jordan Downs housing project.The residential neighborhood located in the Los Angeles district of Watts is the birthplace of several of the nation’s most notorious gangs and was once said to be the murder capital of the United States.

Since the LAPD installed the cameras, violent crimes in the housing projects — including homicides — have decreased 30 percent, according to the department.

Reducing Crime in Real Time

“This is the future of police work,” said deputy chief Charlie Beck on Tuesday in downtown Los Angeles. Beck was the keynote speaker at a forum sponsored by Motorola titled “Motorola Data Solutions Forum.”

A handful of video surveillance vendors attended the event to show public officials the latest technology being used in police departments, as well as in other public sectors. Video cameras and other devices on display incorporated analytics, radio frequency identification (RFID) systems and other applications in surveillance techniques.

The event’s main focus was how police departments are using mesh networks. A mesh network is a wireless network thatmaintains continuous connections by hopping from node to node until a destination is reached. The technology turns every client device into a router, enabling an instant peer-to-peer network among users — in this case, police officers.

The Motomesh network designed by Motorola streams video to an officer’s cell phone, PDA (personal digital assistant) or laptop while the officer is patrolling near the cameras. Access to real time videocan greatly improve an officer’s accuracy when identifying a suspect, said Beck. The footage can also be used as evidence in court.

“Sometimes we make the right decisions — sometimes we don’t. But all decisions can be improved with firsthand information,” he emphasized.

In one case, the cameras caught a group of men robbing a man on a scooter. After viewing thefootage, police were able to arrest two of the suspects, LAPD officer Manuel Hernandez told TechNewsWorld.

While the cameras enable officers to pinpoint crimes, the larger benefit has been their presence — people behave differently when they’re on camera and are less likely to break the law, he said.

“It’s definitely what I like to call a ‘force multiplier,’ because it can do the job of four to five officers,” said Hernandez.

Operational Obstacles

A plan to videotape a neighborhood doesn’t occur overnight; nor does it happen covertly. The policefirst sought approval by the Los Angeles City Council, the city attorney and the mayor. Also, the department conducted weekly meetings with Jordan Downs residents for one year prior to installingthe cameras to incorporate their input into the plan.

Each camera is mounted on a utility pole; the units are limited to viewing public areas, such as streets, sidewalks and parks. The police does not spy on residences, Beck said.

The cameras are encased in bulletproof boxes. Surprisingly, none have been tampered with, Beck added.

“I initially expected to lose all the cameras,” he said, “but we haven’t lost any.”

The equipment and installation cost the city about US$1 million; a federal grant and a donation fromMotorola met additional costs, he added.

As a side benefit, the Motomesh WiFi network provides free Internet to the Jordan Downs residents.

Mesh Networks in Other Communities

In addition to police departments, Motorola pitches the mobile broadband solution to city transportation divisions and corporations in the private sector, said Chip Yager, Motorola director of operations. For example, the mesh network is being used by the local government in Kissimmee, Fla., to assure the safety of tourists. In Plano, Texas, it’s used for traffic control.

“This is stuff that anybody can put together,” Yager told TechNewsWorld. Much of the equipment used — such as wireless video cameras and communication hardware — can be bought off the shelves, he added.

The LAPD is not the first police department to use a mesh network for surveillance purposes, but its success in the Jordan Downs housing project raises awareness of the technology, Yager said.

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