Wi-Fi's Chilling Effect on Crime

By Eric Griffith

March 16, 2007

Cops in California and Georgia are using wireless mesh to power surveillance cameras aimed at keeping criminals from acting out.

Citywide wireless networks have almost become the norm these days, but there's another area in which the mesh network providers excel: smaller deployments for public safety. This week, two such deployments were announced with a primary focus on performing surveillance for the police.

The Jordan Downs public housing complex in Los Angeles is now home to seven surveillance cameras connected by a Motorola MotoMesh network. The 700-units-in-103-buildings complex in the Watts residential district is notoriously high-crime, home to its own gang and a central point of both the 1965 and 1992 riots. The mesh/camera deployment was sponsored by the LAPD, the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Plans for this deployment were hatched by the LAPD more than a year ago.

The cameras -- there will be 10 or more, eventually -- have been in place for a while. Motorola says that, in conjunction with community efforts, the cameras have already had a "chilling effect on crime," leading to a 32% decline.

The network connects back to the LAPD Southeast Division Station with a combination of wired connections and Motorola's Canopy wireless backhaul system. Most interesting is that the cameras are not just monitored in that central location. Streaming video feeds are also sent to patrols in the area using the mesh, thanks to Motorola's Mobile Video Sharing technology.

The entire mesh network runs at 4.9 GHz, which is reserved for first responders. However, since MotoMesh nodes also support 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi, there are plans afoot to use the network to supply Internet access to schools (a high school, two middle schools and several elementary schools) as well as the 2,000 residents in the area.

Motorola donated $1 million in equipment for this deployment and handled the installation; the rest was paid for by a $200,000 grant from the DoJ as part of its Justice Technology Information Network (JustNet).

A similar video surveillance system is also active in Savannah, Georgia, specifically to monitor the St. Patrick's Day parade in the Riverfront area -- at least to start. This could lead to a potential deployment in 22 historic squares in the city. The surveillance network was installed by NetMethods, using equipment from Tropos Networks. Police in Savannah have Tropos mobile wireless routers and cameras in their cruisers; the mobile routers help extend the mesh network beyond the nodes installed.

The city's network manager is quoted in a statement from Tropos as saying, "Our goal is to be a completely connected city, with wireless connectivity citywide so that all of our workers can do in the field what they can do at their desks."

Motorola doesn't see its Jordan Downs network as any kind of trial run at doing a citywide network for all of Los Angeles. However, last month, the office of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa did announce plans for a $62 million (or more) network to cover 498 square miles, bringing access to the city's four million residents by 2009. The City of Angels has yet to issue a Request for Proposals to Wi-Fi vendors -- for now, it has a Request for Qualifications out, seeking a consultant to work with the city on the business plan and future negotiations with bidders. The city already has wireless broadband service with vendors like TowerStream (using WiMax) and Verizon Wireless (using EV-DO).



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