Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Vancouver Okays Digital Camera Upgrades

The 880 cameras installed in SkyTrain stations are about to become a much more powerful investigative tool for police.
TransLink said Wednesday it will pay a B.C. firm $1.8 million to upgrade the rapid transit system’s video surveillance monitoring system to capture and store images digitally.
Intercon Security will carry out the work by July using video technology supplied by IndigoVision, of Edinburgh, Scotland.
The existing SkyTrain cameras will stay in use – replacing them would have been much more expensive – but the old VCR system of recording video to VHS video tape will be scrapped.
The tapes are overwritten automatically, meaning police only have a two-hour window after an incident to ask TransLink to pull them for review.
The new digital capture system will store images for up to seven days.
It will digitally relay video from each station to SkyTrain’s operations centre, where staff watch a large bank of live monitors for trouble.
Initially, only three of the 20-plus cameras at each station will be viewable at a time, but future upgrades to the SkyTrain data network will make any camera viewable in real time both at the operations centre and from any point in the system.
That means police may be able to tap into the system at one platform and remotely watch suspects through a camera in another part of the station or at a different station.
That would be a valuable tool, says Transit Police Staff Sgt. Ken Schinkel.
“It’s always nice to be able to see what you’re walking into,” he said. “It’s certainly beneficial to have some place we can catch a feed or even have a feed into our office and be able to live monitor something.”
Schinkel said the ability to review recorded video older than two hours will be a huge help.
“Quite often we get calls the next day and it’s too late,” he said. “This is a quantum leap in terms of obtaining evidentiary information.”
TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie says the main uses of video monitoring are mundane – like determining whether something fell onto the track after an alarm went off.
But digitally recorded video may open the door to other policing possibilities.
British police plan to use facial recognition software to scan video camera feeds for matches with images of suspects.
Other transit systems are also studying that and other advanced video analytics to counter the threat of terrorism.
The entire field of transit surveillance is evolving fast since British authorities used video evidence to quickly identify the terrorists who in 2005 bombed London’s subway system, killing 52 and injuring 700.
Intelligent video systems may be able to automatically detect an item abandoned by a passenger or someone who enters a restricted area.
Hardie says such possibilities are far ahead of anything TransLink has planned.
“The technical platform will allow you to do all kinds of things,” he said. “A whole other discussion has to take place as to whether that’s what the tool will be used for.”
B.C.’s Information and Privacy Commissioner is still reviewing TransLink plans to add video cameras to the buses.