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West Midlands Police Use Visimetrics Cctv Systems To Aid Safer Detention In Custody

- By Vibeke Ulmann of Visimetrics.

When the actions or honesty of police officers come into question it is essential to investigate events fully. In such circumstances there is no better form of evidence than comprehensive video and audioColin_Holder__left__and_Tim_Woods.jpg recordings to refute or confirm events, suspicions or allegations. Protection of persons in custody, as well as staff, is of the utmost importance.  As with all forms of evidence it is the intricate detail that becomes decisive. This is why West Midlands Police turned to Visimetrics when the force decided to implement a network based custodial CCTV system linking its 23 police stations with custody blocks to force headquarters.

West Midlands Police (WMP) is the UK’s second largest police force after the Metropolitan Police Service. The force serves a population of 2.6 million across 348 square miles. WMP is divided into ten police areas serving the major centres of Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton as well as the districts of Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull and Walsall.
WMP established a project board to evaluate and recommend an appropriate CCTV system for use within all custodial suites throughout the force. The board consulted with relevant internal and external bodies such as Professional Standards Department (PSD) and Anti-Corruption unit, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) as well as ACPO and the Home Office with regards to meeting the requirements of Safer Detention policies.

Intensive Evaluation & Testing
Only the highest image and audio quality was acceptable to WMP. Many manufacturers were evaluated on this basis before the board narrowed the selection to two – Visimetrics and Vicon. WMP took the unusual step of installing a complete recording system from each manufacturer at two separate custody suites to evaluate the overall system, including network management and performance from force headquarters.
Colin Holder, CCTV Project Manager for the force, explains some of the key considerations used to compare the two systems. “Custody CCTV images often form part of murder investigations. As the footage can be used by expert witnesses in facial mapping, it is essential that the recorded images are of the highest quality. Image quality was, by far, our most decisive consideration. Further key evaluation criteria included audio quality and demonstrable synchronisation between video and audio as well as user management of the recordings”.
Colin continues, “Visimetrics held a clear advantage in delivering against our key requirements. However, a further benefit provided by the Visimetrics system was the ability to download dual format footage to DVD in a single step process. Crucially, both standard data (PC) format DVD, and ‘movie’ format DVD, as used in standard DVD players are created by users simultaneously. Given that the Criminal Justice System has moved to this standard, it has massively streamlined the process of getting evidence to our ‘customers’ ”.

Project implementation
With a budget allocation of £2.5 million in place, the force started the installation work early in 2009.  The aim was to complete 2 custody suites per month. For operational reasons the force chose suites geographically separated for installation at the same time. The project team managed to adhere to the installation plan despite the force undergoing a major re-structuring programme during this time.
WMP custody suites are housed in a variety of buildings – from Victorian structures to modern complexes. A common system design was established to minimise the potential for surveillance blind spots. The number of cameras installed at each site is, therefore, directly related to the size and construction of the custody block. The CCTV coverage throughout all custody blocks is as close to 100% efficient as is practical. The overriding principle is that Persons in Custody are recorded from the moment they arrive at the dedicated van dock, and from then on, at every point, as they are processed through the block - to the cell.
Colin adds, “The key areas for us are around the Charge Desks. Regardless of site we have devised a 3 camera layout giving full coverage of both sides of the desk. A further camera is used to overview the desk itself so that property transactions are fully recorded. Other areas such as rooms housing Intoximeter and Fingerprint equipment are covered in a similar fashion”.
A force wide networked system
Tim Wood, Business Development Director for Visimetrics, has been involved with the project from the start. Tim explains, “The WMP solution is effectively a very large integrated recording system (over 1000 cameras) operating across the force’s Wide Area Network. The system is a distributed network of video encoders and RAID storage systems located throughout the force’s 23 custody suites”.
Tim continues, “Ensuring on demand access to all recordings at all times is essential. This calls for a robust, redundant storage configuration. The installed system uses a RAID level 6 with ‘hot spare’ configuration assuring maximum redundancy. The required retention period for all recordings is 90 days. To achieve this at the specified frame rate, resolution and quality requires over 1,400TB (1.4 Petabytes) of storage. Despite such large numbers the system design is very flexible using 4 and 8-channel encoders as the basis for building a fully distributed CCTV storage system”.

Operational use of the System
The CCTV recording system is used by various users. In addition to HQ based staff, local access is available to the relevant recordings for review and export. Colin Holder explains, “I can cite numerous examples where the system has proved its worth already. A common example is increased detection of persons attempting to drop drugs prior to searches. Another is dealing with returned property disputes. The clarity of the images and associated audio allows us very quickly to resolve these issues – something that in the past could escalate into a significant investigation in its own right”.

Moving the entire force over to a new way of working
Visimetrics have worked extremely closely with WMP to ease the transition. More than 200 users have received training, ensuring knowledge is spread over all shift patterns at all times. Tim Wood comments, “Regardless of whether they are local or advanced users, everyone uses the same user interface with the same level of operational functionality. Advanced users such as the video librarians or professional standards have more of an interest in using features such as playlist creation allowing them to piece together an event in a chronological order and then export that playlist to DVD. This process provides a significant saving on time particularly when events are exported to ‘movie’ DVD in a playlist format. Viewers of the DVD simply watch the event unfold in the order created by the investigating officer”.  

Judge the performance of Visimetrics recording systems for yourself. Contact Tim Wood directly on 01292 673 770 or wood@visimetrics.com to organise your evaluation.


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