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Busting Crime on a Budget

EVEN BEFORE the current economic downturn, city officials in Nashua, New Hampshire, were facing a decrease in city revenues and an increase in crime at city properties. As the second-largest city in the state, with about 90,000 residents, Nashua needed an effective and cost-efficient solution to its security problems.

According to Scott Pollock, superintendent of streets in Nashua, there were two sites that seemed most in need of security: the first was a city landfill that had been plagued by people trespassing at night and riding dirt bikes around the property; the second was a 24-hour fuel depot. Though there had not been any incidents at the fuel depot, city officials feared that the rising cost of gas might give criminals an incentive for breaking into the site. Pollock wanted to be able to identify anyone getting fuel.

Originally, the sites were protected by six officers rotating in eight-hour shifts to ensure that there would be one officer at each site after hours. That arrangement cost the city a total of $361,000 a year, which included benefits and overtime. The price tag did not include any ancillary expenses, such as the cost of operating a city vehicle at each site for the officers to conduct their patrols.

“This was an expensive solution that was not working very well,” says Pollock. “Security was limited, because each site had only one officer, only one pair of eyes.”

Pollock began researching potential alternatives and decided that the solution might be to install a camera system, including night-vision cameras that could cover large areas, such as the landfill site. Pollack also wanted a monitoring service to watch over the cameras. With that goal in mind, he hired a consultant, and over the next year, they developed the concept of what would be entailed and put the project out for bid.

Because Pollock had experience with cameras from a previous job, he quickly narrowed the field of vendors to a handful who could meet the city’s needs. He ultimately selected Pelco to supply the camera system, because the cost was reasonable and he had worked with the company before.

Pollock hired BCM Controls of Woburn, Massachusetts, to serve as the project integrator. He then determined that the camera monitoring service offered by Viewpoint CRM of Lowell, Massachusetts, was the best value of those bidding on that aspect of the project.

Viewpoint had a local facility 20 miles from Nashua, which Pollock could visit to assess how the system worked. Viewpoint also had experience providing video monitoring services to large sites.

The integrator installed the cameras and helped coordinate the third-party monitoring service.

BCM Controls installed a total of 10 digital cameras, six at the landfill site and four at the fuel depot. The cameras are color except for two night-vision cameras that record in monochrome. Five cameras are fixed and five have pan-tilt-zoom capabilities. Each facility has a DVR that routes the camera feeds to a server maintained by the city. Viewpoint accesses the feeds via the server in real time. The cameras are recorded and stored on the DVR for five months.

Under the new system, “If the monitoring employees see anything, they can remotely take control of the cameras, focus in on the activity, and contact the appropriate person if there is a problem,” says Pollock.

To ensure that someone from the city is available to address any nonemergency issues that might arise during off hours, the city has two employees on call who carry cell phones. If Viewpoint employees have concerns, they can call these city employees. For emergency issues, they call the police.

The costliest aspect of the system was installing fiber optics at the remote landfill site to support the cameras, some of which needed to be strategically placed along the perimeter fence. Because the landfill site has a five-mile perimeter fence, says Pollock, getting fiber-optic coverage there was an expensive proposition. (The fuel depot site was already equipped to handle the cameras and did not need to have fiber optics installed.)

To improve the return on investment, Pollock brought other agencies on board to see how the city could best use the fiber optic network that was being installed.

“We are going to use that same network for Internet access, administrative functions, and remote utility monitoring,” says Pollock. “There were a number of benefits that we hadn’t thought of that made the project more useful.”

Once the video monitoring began in late 2007, the problems at the landfill disappeared. Pollock’s team put signs up every 200 feet on the fence line, clearly noting that the property was under surveillance. “We found that people are afraid of cameras,” he says. “The monitoring served as a big deterrent, and the trespassing stopped.”

With the monitoring program underway, Pollock learned that Viewpoint also provided an after-hours call-management service. This service allows residents to get answers to questions about city services. The solution seemed a good way to provide city residents with around-the-clock service, and it was another way to improve the return on security’s investment.

“We had been discussing this sort of service for a long time,” says Pollock. “When we found that Viewpoint had that capability, it was a simple solution.”

Before launching the after-hours service, Pollock had to develop a script for Viewpoint to help them address the types of calls that were likely to come in. The script contains 40 “what if” scenarios. “So if someone calls to say they dropped their keys in a storm drain, the employees at Viewpoint know how to provide help to that specific problem,” says Pollock.

Viewpoint employees follow the script if at all possible. If something isn’t covered, they call Pollock directly. After the service went live last year, Pollock had to tweak the list to increase the number of scenarios covered and to adapt to the variety of ways questions could be asked. Now, Pollock says, he rarely gets a call.

Even including the cost of the afterhours service, the move to remote monitoring has saved the city nearly $290,000 in employment costs for the officers. The total annual cost for all of the programs is now $72,500. Viewpoint’s remote video monitoring service is $40,600 per year. The cost for two employees to be on call and carry a cell phone after hours is $21,000 a year. The after-hours call service is $1,800 a year, and the city also budgets for two nonemergency responses a week at $9,100 a year. (This would include a call to police if a hazard were in a roadway, for example.) Even with the outlay for purchasing the cameras and installing the fiber optics network, the system paid for itself in a year.

“The goal was to improve security and reduce costs,” says Pollock. “I think we’ve found a very reasonable solution.”

(For more information: Brad Gordon, CEO, Viewpoint; phone: 888/808-6992; email:[email protected]. Steve Feinberg, BCM Controls; phone: 781/933-8878; e-mail:[email protected].)