Public Safety & Homeland Security

Police Corridor Cameras Plagued by Problems

The system can't handle the reams of data from the video captured and then sent to the Police Department.

by Andrew Barksdale, The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. / May 10, 2017
Shutterstock

(TNS) - the Fayetteville, N.C., police camera surveillance system, which has been plagued with power and network problems since Hurricane Matthew, has gone dark.

The city's Information Technology staff hastily reinstalled part of the camera network for the Fayetteville Dogwood Festival downtown in late April, but a heavy rain storm afterward knocked the entire system off line again.

The network, with a little more than 100 cameras along major thoroughfares, was installed in 2014-15 by grants and hailed by then-Police Chief Harold Medlock as a “force multiplier” that helped lawmen nab suspects caught on footage and reduce crime.

But according to recent interviews with city officials and the vendor that installed the cameras and WiFi network to operate them, the system is over capacity. It cannot handle the reams of data from the video captured and then sent to the Police Department, where the cameras are controlled by computers and images are shown on large monitors on a wall.

The city and the vendor, which is Wildfire Camera Networks of Rock Hill, South Carolina, have been in a dispute for months.

Deputy City Manager Kristoff Bauer has acknowledged the city stopped paying Wildfire Camera Networks over a disagreement with how the company was maintaining the system.

“And we have a dispute with the contractor, due to the lack of service, so we are on the legal side and looking to enforce the contract provisions,” Bauer said at a small council group budget meeting last week.

Bob Dunlap, the chief executive officer for Wildfire, said he warned city officials last year the network was rapidly approaching capacity. He said he submitted several proposals to upgrade the system, but the city never responded to them.

According to Dunlap, the city owes Wildfire about $35,000 for work repairing the system after Matthew, which dumped nearly 15 inches of rain in October and caused widespread damage in eastern North Carolina.

“We think we were doing very good work under the circumstances, and we were just frustrated by not being paid, and they were not responding for six months,” Dunlap said.

Bauer and Dunlap agreed the network was built with a focus on speed rather than long-term durability.

“They pressed us all the time,” Dunlap said, referring to police under Medlock's administration.

The chief retired in December.

Bauer and Dunlap, however, offer different accounts on why Wildfire is no longer maintaining the network. Bauer said when officials “tried to hold the vendor accountable, they revoked our right to use their service.”

“They basically shut down the network,” Bauer said.

Dunlap, in a phone interview Tuesday, said the city's IT department informed his company in January it would be taking over the network, and Wildfire was locked out of the system the next day.

Dunlap said his company's engineers in January warned the city the rapidly growing camera network was “reaching its bandwidth and overall operational capacity and would require a significant upgrade to continue to function properly.”

Lt. Todd Joyce, the Police Department's chief spokesman, said Matthew knocked out the camera system by cutting off power and causing problems to its wireless network on which it relied. He said the most of the system was back up by around Christimas-time.

But problems with it festered after the holidays.

“It was never 100 percent,” Joyce said.

Then, a week before Easter, Joyce said, the system went down — another victim of a storm and network problems.

The system's troubled status came to light last week at a budget meeting when Mayor Pro Tem Mitch Colvin said he had heard the cameras weren't working.

“That was a major asset to the community, so I'm concerned about it,” Colvin said Monday.

According to Bauer and Joyce, the city is looking to find another vendor to upgrade the system and getting it running again. Neither knew off-hand Tuesday the timeline for restoring the camera network.

Staff writer Andrew Barksdale can be reached at abarksdale@fayobserver.com or 486-3565.

———

©2017 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)

Visit The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.) at www.fayobserver.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.