Not just surveillance: Riverbank’s new cameras recognize when you’re up to no good

Riverbank’s newest surveillance cameras go beyond simply capturing video footage.

They can detect when someone stops a car and dumps trash along a roadway. They can track a specific vehicle as it goes through town after, say, a bank robbery. And through them, authorities can talk to suspects at the exact time they’re doing something illegal.

This video surveillance technology was developed by a Ceres-based company whose product has been used for security at three of the last four Super Bowls.

IntelliSite’s Remote Surveillance Units (RSU) use video analytics to identify more than 300,000 patterns of human behavior, according to the company’s CEO, Mario Campos.

The units also can be equipped with license plate readers (LPRs) that search a Department of Justice database and notify law enforcement when a wanted vehicle drives by one of the cameras.

Likewise, a license plate number can be entered into the database to retrace the travel of a wanted vehicle through a city that has the cameras, Campos said. And because LPRs have their own video analytics, partial plate numbers generate video of all matching vehicles, which can be narrowed down by paint color or make and model.

On Monday, IntelliSite began installing 18 RSUs at intersections throughout Riverbank and its skate park.

“A lot of our calls for service are at businesses where we have ongoing thefts,” said Riverbank Police Chief Erin Kiely. “We have to go after the fact and piece together what happened, so having the ability to see what vehicles came and went and see who was in them is a huge asset.”

The cameras can pan, tilt and zoom in from about a mile away, Campos said. Police in Fremont used the RSUs to identify and arrest a bank robber by zooming in on a tattoo on his forearm as he fled in a vehicle onto a nearby freeway. By entering the license plate into the system, they saw video of him casing the area the day before the robbery, Campos said.

Riverbank has 0.74 sworn deputies for every 1,000 residents, “which is pretty light,” Kiely said. The cameras will help offset that disparity, “so we can do more with less,” he said.

When the units were proposed to the Riverbank City Council in March, two residents expressed concern about people being surveilled on their own property.

“When I first read the agenda item ... on this project, three things came to my mind, George Orwell’s ‘1984,’ Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World,’ and Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote, ‘If you give up a little liberty for security, you deserve neither,’ ” one resident said.

Campos said a tool called “masking” is used to obscure private property in areas where it abuts public property.

“We will take great pains to protect privacy, and we are not here to go after any individual in a front yard,” Mayor Richard O’Brien said during the meeting.

Kiely added last week that unlike some of the cities that use the cameras, Riverbank doesn’t have the staff to monitor the feeds.

“We have access to that database when we need it, but we don’t have the time, energy and resources to sit there and monitor everything,” he said. “The whole idea is to make less work for us rather than more work.”

Boxes have flashing blue lights

As as much as the units are a crime-solving tool, they also are a deterrent.

Boxes that encase the units include decals of the department’s badges and a flashing blue light so that they are highly visible at night and signal that they belong to law enforcement. They also have two-way audio so authorities can speak to violators as they are being caught on cameras.

With sponsorship from Verizon Wireless, about 20 of RSUs were installed around the stadiums at the Super Bowls — Atlanta in 2019, Minneapolis in 2018 and Santa Clara in 2016. They were programed to identify suspicious activity like items left behind or large crowds gathering.

Oakdale installed four RSUs at its Community Center Plaza in November and saw a two-thirds reduction in the number of calls for service there in the seven months that followed compared to the same period the year before, said Chief Scott Heller.

In February, seven more RSUs were installed at the Oakdale Community Park, a 3-acre site in the center of town that features a skate park, amphitheater and play structures.

Heller said data hasn’t been analyzed yet for the park but anecdotally, there has been a reduction in the number of calls for service. Oakdale monitors its cameras from its communication center at the department and has used the audio feature to address municipal code violations like people who are in the park after hours or smoking in the park.

Heller hopes to add services from IntelliSite soon that will allow officers on the street to monitor the cameras from their smart phones or patrol car computers.

The city of Modesto started using IntelliSite cameras in 2017. The video can be watched live in the Real Time Crime Center at the police department.

Because Riverbank won’t be monitoring feeds from the RSUs like Modesto and Oakdale, Campos will use the video analytics to detect and alert on certain illegal activity.

Video used to thwart illegal dumping

For example, Campos says he has clients in the Bay Area and Sacramento who use his RSUs to combat illegal dumping and vandalism.

A camera can be fixed on a well-traveled roadway, but it isn’t until one of the vehicles pulls over and a person gets out and starts unloading trash that it sends an alert, Campos said.

Cameras at a shopping center capture people walking in and out of stores all day, but an alert isn’t activated until a person starts walking up and down parking stalls and looking in vehicles.

Since Modesto often has someone monitoring cameras in its Real Time Crime Center, the department doesn’t use the video analytics, but InstelliSite equipped it with some equally valuable technology.

“They assisted us in developing a streaming solution to capture the video remotely from our drones,” said Modesto Police Lt. Ivan Valencia. “The video is transmitted back to the Real Time Crime Center, a command post, a tablet device or smart phone. You are able to view the same footage the operator is seeing.”

Without the technology, one person would have to relay what he is seeing from the drone to officers and some of that information could be lost or misinterpreted.

During a recent search warrant served in connection with a homicide, the drone hovered over the target property while Modesto SWAT team members in an armored truck waited around the corner to move in while watching live aerial video of the property. They could see a man in the front yard and four dogs running around.

By knowing exactly what they were going to encounter when they approached, one of the SWAT team members armed himself with a tranquilizer gun. The team was able to apprehend the man in the front yard (he wasn’t arrested) and tranquilize three of the dogs so they could safely conduct their search without harming the animals, Valencia said.

Campos brothers attended Stanislaus State

Mario Campos and his brother Jorge Campos started IntelliSite, formerly QPCS, 22 years ago while they were students at Stanislaus State University studying computer science.

In the beginning, they did IT work for law enforcement and fire departments.

“That led us to the public safety realm, and as time went by, we started focusing on video surveillance,” Mario Campos said.

The brothers, who grew up in Costa Rica, now serve some 500 clients throughout the United States and have recently expanded into their home country, from which they are serving 50 clients throughout Latin America.

They employ about 30 people in the United States and 20 in Costa Rica.

Riverbank will be the first city locally to use all the features available in the RSU’s, including utilizing the video analytics to conduct traffic surveys.

The city is using the public development fund paid by its two cannabis dispensaries to lease the cameras at an annual rate of roughly $75,000, said Riverbank City Manager Sean Scully.

Campos said the video is recorded locally using a cellular connection, then streamed onto the cloud, making the technology much less expensive than others that require fiber optics. He said one mile of fiber optic cable costs about $100,000.

Scully said he is hopeful the technology will help solve and deter crime and improve the security of the city’s parks, roadways and entry points.

“We also see value from a traffic monitoring and engineering perspective,” he said. “We will be able to produce real time traffic data that can aid in our planning for future traffic and roadway projects.”

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Erin has been covering breaking news and crime at The Modesto Bee since 2010. She is a Humboldt State graduate and resides in Oakdale.