Will Electronics and NSI Video Surveillance Partnership Making a Difference in St. Louis

The Midwest city and surrounding areas have received much attention recently for crime, policing issues and civil unrest. Discover how Will Electronics has teamed with a local organization for a video solution that is making a difference.

Has this undertaking been publicized or are you trying to be more discreet?

WHYTE: I go to many public meetings every month, so during the planning process, installation and since I have taken every opportunity I can to promote what we’ve done and what we’re doing.

It has received plenty of local media attention, particularly our successes with the camera project. We haven’t gone into the specifics about precisely where every one of our cameras is located. But we are publicly funded with tax dollars, so we’re very open and above board on how
we’re spending taxpayers’ money.

I participated in a panel discussion on one of our local Channel 9 programs with local police chiefs, other security folks in the city and members of the ACLU, who we invited to our office. We provided them with a litany of documents, everything we had on our camera project.

They did a whitepaper on it and gave us very good reviews about how it was funded, how it was built, how it’s been managed, who has access to it, things like that.

They were very complimentary of how our system has been designed, implemented and is now being run.

will electronics installing

Founded in 1955, Will Electronics delivers video and access control solutions to 400 clients. The firm offers system design, engineering and installation services, and also has 70 monitored accounts.

Could you give me some deeper details on the specifics of the system itself?

DARRELL BUFFINGTON: When we started out, I believe 17 sites were going to be installed to complete the whole system. Jim’s office, which we call the headend, has the main enterprise-class Genetec system and also three cameras on his building.

We also brought the older cameras through the wireless system into that location. We repurposed those cameras and brought them right back into the Genetec platform with no issues.

We used Panasonic across the board with multiple cameras across all 17 locations, and deployed Genetec SV16 server-style recording units in each spot to ensure if the Internet connection goes down those cameras remain recording as the data resides onsite.

At each location the camera is hardwired back to a cabinet through a switch and then goes over the Internet, which Charter Communications facilitated, for remote viewing. Through the Genetec platform, we federated the cameras back into the headend where Jim can view everything as one big system.

That also allows the NSI to share that video with the St. Louis Police Department’s Real-Time Crime Center. So it’s kind of a multistep process. He federates them in from each location to his main system, and then the Real Time Crime Center sees his enterprise- class system that also allows them to see all the remote locations.

Genetec allows that kind of accessibility for different entities and it allows you also to determine what each entity can see.

What types of cameras are they and how much storage is there?

BUFFINGTON: There are around 80 3-megapixel, vandal-proof cameras. There were some existing pan/tilt/zooms and other legacy systems we brought in but everything we installed were fixed cameras with varifocal lenses we aimed and focused where desired.

Each local recording device has a 1TB drive in it. We do continuous recording on them at 15 frames per second. Depending on how many cameras are at each location, many sites are getting 30 days of footage. These are busy areas and so they need to be recording all the time.

What were the biggest challenges you faced and how were they dealt with?

BUFFINGTON: It’s a very historic area of St. Louis with a lot of old buildings made out of stone and brick. So we had to be really careful during the installation not to damage the buildings.

A lot of it was just finding your wire routes and paths, and deciding where the headend was going to go in order to get the infrastructure to that location. It involved limiting the amount of conduit outside, limiting the amount of stuff that is not natural to the facilities.

Jim did an excellent job getting in touch with all the owners prior and so every building we worked at they were more than happy to have us there, to show us around, give us access and have these cameras. None of them ever complained about how things looked or anything like that.

It was also amazing how many people also walked by or live in that area were excited to see cameras going up. They were very receptive to having this camera system put into their neighborhood.

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What about lighting? I would think that could pose a challenge.

BUFFINGTON: There were situations where lighting was an issue, particularly in alleyways and the like. With a lot of the Panasonic cameras after installation we would watch it for a while, and then make setting changes inside them to optimize the lighting sensitivity.

In some instances, we would force the day/night mode into the nighttime mode, but color at all times. We’ve had a few issues with reflections of light in the cameras, showing reflections in the domes and things due to height, style of lighting and locations.

Jim had covers made for a couple of the cameras to keep off rain where it flowed off a building and created a problem. It’s been a process fine-tuning everything. At the start, we had to make multiple adjustments for the cameras in each scenario, so that required a lot of nighttime sitting at the headend with Jim.

We’ve had Panasonic engineers onsite going through all the cameras, and talked with them about what we see and how to fix certain things. They worked with us well so it was an all-around team effort.

Were there other ways the vendors intimately were involved?

WILL: Genetec was very supportive. They’re one of those companies that if we need them, they’re there and if we don’t need them they don’t get in the way. From a technical standpoint, we did run into some challenges with Internet circuit reliability.

We ended up reconfiguring the system late in the process to deal with that connectivity issue. Genetec was accommodating when we had to relicense the agreement as an enterprise-class system versus a series of what they call base systems, and made that happen without increasing the cost.

Can you offer examples of how the system is showing itself to be a crime deterrent or of forensic value?

WHYTE: In 2016, we did almost 100 video reviews and this camera system helped our police department make about 50 arrests out of that that normally wouldn’t have been made had it not been for that video evidence, which is remarkable. It has changed the game for our police investigators.

Probably my No. 1 question is if it is a deterrent for crime. But we never know which crimes we deter because they don’t happen, so that’s hard to gauge.

Our big first success came in late December 2012 when a man who just got released from the prison, after serving almost 20 years for armed robbery, decided to come to the Central West End and pick up where he left off. When it was all said and done, he did two armed robberies at our location and tried to kidnap a woman.

Our cameras got a partial license plate that led police to arrest him. Two months ago, he pled guilty and is serving life in prison. The results we get from these cameras are just remarkable, which is why we’re likely going to continue to expand what we’ve built, and continue to do that with Will Electronics.

Our next project we just agreed to is incorporating license plate recognition [LPR] technology through Genetec at one of our major intersections.

reviewing camera feeds

In 2016, almost 100 video reviews were conducted using the new camera system that helped police make about 50 arrests. “It has changed the game,” says Central West End NSI’s Jim Whyte.

< strong>WILL: The city of St. Louis has a license plate capture system in place through Genetec, the AutoVu product, that reads the plates and checks them against a hot list of stolen cars or otherwise noteworthy vehicles in the database.

There’s already about 25 LPR cameras in place throughout the city with plans to probably double that in 2017.

WHYTE: I never refer to our camera system as a “surveillance system.” Surveillance in my experience is something you actively do. Our system is primarily passive. It’s constantly up and running and recording.

We don’t look at the system until an event happens, and that’s when we engage the system and get the information that we need. I think that’s relatively true for the Real Time Crime Center, which has I believe more than 500 cameras fed into it.

Since the PD only has a handful of detectives working any given shift, for practical purposes they’re not engaged in any sort of surveillance or monitoring on the system. Instead they coordinate review of the cameras with calls for service that come in over the police radio or crime events as they occur.

What tips do you have for cities and integrators taking on similar projects?

WHYTE: I would tell other municipalities that this technology is expensive. You have to be prepared for it. What I will never do is take the cheapest route or most expensive route. This is not about checking a box saying we have a camera here.

That camera has to be the best. It has to perform. It has to get us results or it provides no value to our system. Although I’m trying to be an extremely good steward of the public’s money here, cost is not our top priority. It’s all about the quality and capabilities of the system, and the expertise by which it’s put in.

WILL: I always say camera placement is very much an art, not a science. Everybody has different needs as to what they want this camera to see.

The whole process of communicating from Jim as the end user, all the way through to our feet on the street actually putting these in and maintaining them, is a huge challenge.

My recommendation is to over-communicate with the customer. It’s very difficult to understand the expectation. They’re all unique. Jim has been very good to work with and when there’s an issue he lets us know. That’s the way it needs to be for us to do our job.

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About the Author


Scott Goldfine is the marketing director for Elite Interactive Solutions. He is the former editor-in-chief and associate publisher of Security Sales & Integration. He can be reached at [email protected].

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