by JD Sartain

Next-Generation Video Surveillance Comes to Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office

Sep 24, 20146 mins
Government ITPhysical SecurityVideo

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office protects one of the country's fastest-growing areas. Video surveillance systems in its jails couldn't keep up with the growth -- or the times. Find out why the department turned to fully integrated security controls and big data storage.

Video surveillance pops up all over the globe – and not just to identify suspects in crimes or terrorist activities. Retail stores use video surveillance to record customers’ shopping patterns. County governments watch traffic flow for better road design. Schools and corporations monitor classrooms and offices. Police officers now wear body cameras. Video is everywhere, capturing millions of hours of activity.

The Maricopa County (Az.) Sheriff’s Office is the third largest sheriff agency in the United States, with an average of 8,500 inmates continuously monitored. MCSO captures and records all activities within the facility 24/7. Maintaining high-quality security with outdated equipment and amid massive growth – the current population of 4 million has quadrupled since 1970 and nearly doubled since 1990 – was becoming a nightmare.

With its legacy video surveillance system, it took two days for the office to retrieve just 30 minutes of pixilated, out-of-focus footage that made identifying the crime scene and the perpetrators increasingly difficult, if not almost impossible. In addition, technical problems persisted – corrupted tapes, malfunctioning cameras, random network disconnects from equipment and ongoing system failures.

Options: Video Surveillance Upgrade or Replacement?

Considering Maricopa County’s reputation as one of the most technology advanced counties in the United States, these frequent issues had to be resolved. Sixty days to identify, access and retrieve 30 days’ worth of video surveillance data was unacceptable, not to mention a time luxury the sheriff’s office couldn’t afford. In many investigations, data had to be retrieved within hours, even minutes.

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The sheriff’s office began researching technologies to upgrade and/or replace its legacy system. The department wanted to capture multiple petabytes of surveillance and sensor data from thousands of new IP cameras across its six facilities, so quality, speed and reliability mattered. It quickly became apparent that similar failures at other locations necessitated a complete overhaul of the county’s video surveillance approach.

“Maricopa needed an exceptionally reliable video surveillance system that could capture data in real-time, as well as store and process that information quickly,” says Molly Rector, CMO at storage infrastructure vendor DataDirect Networks (DDN). “Other factors [it] looked for included reliability, alerting, user friendliness, standardization and faster access to footage and forensic quality images.”

Solutions: Fully Integrated Security Controls

Lt. Brandon Jones, public information officer at Maricopa County, says the department wanted a single vendor to deploy and support “an end-to-end system that could scale significantly without compromising ease of use.” The search led to Colorado-based Sierra Detention Systems, which Jones says “focuses on delivering innovative approaches to security.”

Sierra recommended a fully integrated security controls system featuring a unified, IP security system; high-definition cameras, and high-performance big data storage powered by DDN’s Storage Fusion Architecture (SFA).

The DDN- Sierra integration gives law enforcement a single-pane view of the entire security environment, complete with touch-screen controls of both video and audio recordings. Meanwhile, the SFA technology supports Sierra’s video surveillance system across the county’s six facilities, which span 3,000 HD surveillance cameras.

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The sheriff’s office is now prepared to scale from 5.5 petabytes of storage to 30 petabytes, Rector says, adding, “The new system is 10 times faster than the previous legacy equipment, even though the data now captured and archived has increased.”

Deployment: Jails Never Close, Systems Can’t Shut Down

Installing the new technology “while the facilities were operational, fully populated with inmates, and side-by-side with the legacy system” presented the biggest deployment challenge, Jones says. “With over 8,500 inmates in our facilities, there was no real way to shut down a site to allow for installation.”

The sheriff’s office kicked off the 18-week installation plan six months ago. Two facilities are fully operational now; the rest will come online soon. Control rooms, supervisors’ offices, jail administration and medical clinics are among the areas receiving improved viewing stations and access to the system. Pan, tilt and zoom (PTZ) cameras were added to housing units, and more than 100 new cameras, some with low-light technology, were installed in the Tent City Jail to increase coverage and offer greater Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) incident exposure.

Benefits: Scalability, Performance Beget Fast Video Retrieval

Rector says DDN lets the sheriff’s office “reset drives on the fly,” which in turn lets the facility adopt a “set it and forget it” approach. DDN storage also integrates with the virtual memory system (VMS) platforms at other correctional facilities. The department also achieved “redundancy beyond redundancy” through redundant power supplies and RAID 6 active/active storage controllers, Rector says.

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In addition, the sheriff’s office benefits from high-speed retrieval of HD footage. Officers can now pull 12 hours of full-HD video in 17 minutes; previously, it took three hours to get low-quality video. Finally, the aforementioned scalable storage, combined with real-time bandwidth and optimized delivery of low-latency access to spinning (HDD) and flash (SSD) media, give the department best-in-class input/output operations per second (IOPS) performance, Rector says.

Advice: Involve Everyone, Ask Questions, ‘Don’t Trust the Salesman’

Jones says the sheriff’s office learned many lessons during the research and design phases – and many more during implementation. “The most important: Involve as many people in your industry as feasibly possible,” he says. Don’t rely on just the technical experience to design and deploy such a critical system. Don’t rely on the administrators to design the system. Talk to the line staff and include some of [it] as well.”

Improved technology can change the culture of America’s jails, Jones says – but only if the best internal technical experts, detention housing and operational experts, and the facility’s employees are involved. Listen to your staff, he says. Also heeds regulations such as the PREA and the Department of Justice Limited English Proficiency requirements, which will improve their daily lives and duties of employees.

Jones also recommends some detective work. “Research, travel and speak to end users. Don’t trust the salesman. Ever.” During the project, the sheriff’s office encountered several companies, “all promising us the moon.”

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Jones and his team traveled to six locations across the country – often kicking the salesman out of the room in order to have more candid conversations with prison administrators as well as the people using the systems every day. “We learned from other projects that there are people just like us out there who have experienced the good and the bad of these companies,” he says.