The evolution of police facility design


For the design of new police facilities, up-to-date surveillance and access control systems are integrated to provide increased security, greater flexibility, robust technical options and sustainability in the face of technological change.

Westport Police Department / Tecton Architects

Police departments across the country rely on their security and surveillance systems to ensure the safety of their staff within the station, to secure weapons, to secure detainees, to protect the chain of custody of police items. proof and to maintain the confidentiality of the records that the service keeps. So how do you know if your systems are up to date and provide the level of protection you depend on?

Thirty years ago, when I designed my first police station, I remember small service windows with thick ballistic glass that distorted the view. I remember bulky cameras with bulky brackets connected with a coaxial cable. Outdoor cameras were even bulkier in their temperature-controlled housings. The dispatch center would have cumbersome CCTV control units with their own mouse or joystick and large monitors. I remember debating which doors would benefit from access controls and which would not, as we balanced the high cost of hardware, installation and headend systems. But above all, as an architect, I remember the challenge of creating an appropriate atmosphere for departments to serve their community in the face of these clunky and institutional devices.

Today things are very different. The technology around security and surveillance systems is much more powerful and more discreet, and advances in materials technology have changed the character of secure interior design.

For the design of new police facilities, we integrate up-to-date surveillance and access control systems that provide increased security, greater flexibility, robust technical options and sustainability in the face of technological change. New station surveillance systems use IP cameras that are networked so that users have the ability to provide or limit access to any computer on the network. The image quality of the camera and monitors has increased significantly, allowing greater flexibility in managing multiple surveillance images on one monitor or getting more detail when you extract a single image for further inspection .

In many cases, the enhanced functionality is software-based and exists in the headend equipment rather than the individual camera. Features such as face recognition or license plate recognition are software based. Recently, manufacturers have come up with software solutions to combat the pandemic by offering temperature scanning, occupancy monitoring, social distance monitoring and face mask compliance identification, and as it happens. is software, it can be added to existing systems without changing cameras.

Some great features require additional hardware on the camera, but the improved capacity may be worth the investment. Optical zoom functions more powerful than the digital zoom of most cameras can be a choice when you want to observe small details at a great distance. During a recent police station project, we mounted such a camera aimed at a main intersection which was very useful in identifying more than just traffic violations. Cameras with infrared illumination can provide visibility even in very low light situations and 360 degree fisheyes can give a view all around the camera. Since most cameras are plug and play with a CAT 6 connection, if you don’t get these options initially, upgrading is much easier.

When synchronized audio and video recording is required, such as in an interview room or during reservation, these time stamped files can be stored on a separate server for simplified backup and greater storage capacity. The video recording camera used in conjunction with the ordinary security surveillance camera can provide multiple viewpoints of the same interaction. In some cases, your body and cruiser cameras can download wirelessly so that all of these recordings can be accessed with the same video management software.

Access control software has also evolved over the years. Although the reading devices look like the ones I specified at the start of my career, the technology has improved. First and foremost, improvements in encryption technology have made forged credentials more difficult to fabricate. Multifactor credentials have improved and costs have also decreased over time. So, if you want to meet CALEA standards for drugs, weapons and valuables, or just want to increase security around the prisoner processing area, two-factor authentication can help. The two factors can be cards, pins, or biometric data.

The power of access control lies in reporting. The system creates a record of each person who accesses a door with a time stamp. This means that using access control readers to establish a record for cell controls is easily achievable. It will also improve your chain of custody checks for evidence and allow for the creation of hand traps. The system will also tell you if a door is stalled and left open.

The real power, however, comes from integrating the two systems together. piggybacking can be a common hack to gain access to control systems. This is when one person legitimately accesses the door with an ID, then a second person grabs the door just before closing it. Incorporating a camera into the access system can allow you to highlight authorized access and observe piggyback traffic. Again, to access the evidence storage, you can have a record if one person uses credentials while another follows.

So how do you assess if it’s time for a new security or surveillance system?

  • Is your access control system a key?
  • Do you have blind spots for the camera?
  • Does your access control provide reporting functionality?
  • Does your surveillance system offer software upgrades to improve capacity?
  • Can you allow monitoring from any computer on the network?
  • Do you have sufficient storage space for video footage?

When deciding to upgrade your systems, there are a few things to keep in mind. The headend system is the key. Software and server equipment provide the power to provide options and extend viability over time. If you invest well in this equipment, you can extend the life cycle of the entire system. Be aware that you may need to consider licensing fees to ensure you have access to software upgrades and enhancements over time. Make sure you buy from a reputable manufacturer so that hardware support continues long after your specific camera model has stopped. Also be aware of the National Defense Authorization Act 2019 which prohibits certain manufacturers who could introduce security risks. Make sure your installer / integrator knows how to work with both systems to get the most out of the combined security network.

According to Moore’s Law, the processing power of computers doubles every two years as computers become less expensive. Some tech industry experts say Moore’s Law is slowing down or even dead. But regardless, it seems likely that software improvements will continue to give your security and surveillance systems increased capabilities for years to come.

Jeff McElravy, AIA, Director, Tecton Architects, has devoted his 34-year career exclusively to architecture for public safety installations. As a nationally recognized expert in police station design, he acts as a planning and design consultant for government departments across the country.

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