SECURITY CAMERA NETWORK MONITORS COURTHOUSES
Sheng Guo, Chief Technology Officer for the New York State Unified Court System, got the idea from reading an article in The Wall Street Journal.
"There was an article from Washington, D.C., about how the federal government and several multi-use buildings connected their surveillance cameras into a network format that was centrally monitored by D.C. police," said Guo. "I said to myself, they're doing this for the White House. Maybe we can do the same thing."
Many New York courthouses have security cameras, but, according to Guo, "many of the monitors are situated in the basement of the buildings and managed by building superintendents," rather than court security officers. "Other monitors in courthouses are not even hooked up." An innovative computer program developed by the Office of Court Administration's Division of Technology is transforming these cameras into a truly effective security system. The New York Times has hailed New York's court security system as the most sophisticated in the country.
"They are the first that I have ever heard of use their network to be able to serve their security requirements," James McMillan, principal court technology consultant at the National Center for State Courts, said in an interview with the Times. "Courts have long had video surveillance built into local court sites. But it's a really great idea to be able to distribute that work over a network."
The need for increased security, particularly in New York City, became a priority after Sept. 11. Since then, Guo and his department have worked closely with Chief of Public Safety Matthew O'Reilly to come up with additional safety measures for the state's court system.
"It was a perfect match," said Guo. "We provided the technical solutions and the Department of Public Safety provided operational expertise. It's been a great team effort." The first phase of the collaboration began in the spring of 2003. Of the 350 state court facilities, 30 New York City facilities are now equipped with the surveillance network. Guo and O'Reilly are currently working to install additional cameras in other courthouses and court buildings around the state.
Now, security officers with the proper clearance can monitor a variety of places inside and outside courthouses around the state via any PC computer. The digital cameras and software transmit images only over the court system's high-speed net- work, not the public Internet. Guo demonstrates by opening a Web browser to a map of New York City. From there he navigates to Brooklyn courthouses, and a grid of the courthouses appears. As he rolls the cursor over each building, its name and address pop up. When Guo selects a specific courthouse, the detailed floor-plans that highlight the location of the surveillance cameras in and around the building appear. Once he clicks on a camera icon, the screen fills with an image of an entry door or a pedestrian walking outside the courthouse. The surveillance system is not equipped to videotape the images, but Guo said that's something officials are considering for the future.
The implementation of the entire system is a two-year project designed to bring an innovative and cost-saving security plan to all of New York State's court system. Guo knew he could find inexpensive cameras to use in the effort, but when he and his staff began their project they found that the existing software for integrating the images was both expensive and underpowered. So, Guo decided that he and his staff would develop a system of their own at a fraction of the cost of a commercial application.
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