You've heard of the long arm of the law - in New York, its eyesight and memory stretch pretty far, too.

The New York State Unified Court System recently put the finishing touches on a network of more than 350 IP video surveillance cameras. These network-attached eyeballs record every minute of every day in all New York court facilities state-wide and link to a multi-terabyte storage system, giving court security officials a powerful tool to monitor and protect their facilities.

But for the court's IT group, high-bandwidth video is just another stream on an IP network built several years ago with enormous capacity, now tapped to deploy a variety of advanced services. Also supported is a 10,000-seat IP telephony network and more than 100 IP videoconferencing units. Overall, these systems save the courts about US$1 million per year on various voice and video costs, and allow for advanced services such as comprehensive video surveillance, which were once cost-prohibitive.

The courts last year rolled out a limited IP video surveillance system, based on open source software written in-house. This pilot system, assembled using Linux scripts and commodity IP cameras, installed on a shoestring budget, got the attention of court system security officials, says CTO Sheng Guo.

"The solution proved to be a good experience, but it did not provide video-recording functionality and other advanced features," he says.

The pace of Guo's IP surveillance rollout accelerated this spring, sparked in part by a widely publicised courthouse shooting in Atlanta in March. New York courts have had closed-circuit video for years, but only on the outside of a few key buildings and main traffic areas. Security officials wanted continuous surveillance in all courthouses and the ability to review video weeks or months after an incident.

Super surveillance
A hundred cameras were added earlier this year - new IP cameras from Axis Communications, as well as older analogue cameras fitted with IP encoders and attached to the LAN. The court system also installed a software suite called NetGuard from On-Net Surveillance Systems that controls all of the court system's cameras, plus video archival from Axis.

At the court's downtown Manhattan security command centre, officers watch video on an array of flat panel displays, showing the court's most heavily trafficked sites. Through an interface that mimics Internet Explorer, an officer can expand a directory of icons, representing all courthouses and facilities. Clicking on each icon reveals locations at each site under IP video surveillance. One click deeper, and a window is launched with a live IP video feed: a trial in session in Queens, pedestrian traffic outside the Superior Court building downtown, an empty stairwell in Buffalo.

Officers can control the zoom and pan of the cameras via mouse clicks. The windows can be tiled or arranged in a grid, giving a view into dozens of sites at once. Officers can pull up a similar interface on WiFi-enabled PDAs. A few taps of a stylus, and the officer has the same live IP video feed as the flat panels in the command centre - at a lower bit rate, because of the PDA's tiny screen and limited wireless LAN bandwidth.

The court system has more than 500 Nortel WLAN access points deployed state-wide for supporting data and video, as well as a test deployment of VoIP-over-WLAN phones for court officers. (Nortel WiFi IP phones are being considered as a back-up communications device to the court's two-way radio system, Guo says.)

The NetGuard system can be configured for motion detection and alerting, for monitoring closed buildings during overnight hours. When a person enters an empty room under surveillance, for example, a shake-up of recorded pixels occurs inside an IP camera. The software that controls the camera senses this and sends an e-mail, page or phone call to officers.

Secure, but visible anywhere
The IP-based system allows court staff to open cameras from any PC - even from a home computer via the court's VPN. All cameras are password-protected, and traffic runs on a separated virtual LAN, to protect the surveillance system from unauthorised access, Guo says.

Even with camera feed accessible at the desktop, "you can't have staff watching every camera in every building all the time," Guo says. So the court system records everything digitally - 2.5T bytes of video streams per month - on six video archive servers from Axis, in the court system's Manhattan data centre.

"If there is an incident, we have months and months of video," which law enforcement can view from anywhere, with the proper software and access rights, Guo adds.

To save on storage, the system does not record dead space; video that does not break the threshold for pixel movement detection is not stored.

Closed-circuit video systems have been used across the state in the past, but these analogue systems were functionally limited and expensive, Guo says. They required an outside contractor, who installed dedicated video cabling and monitoring systems, and tape storage was costly and physically inconvenient.

The IP surveillance traffic is just another drop in the court system's huge bandwidth bucket. "All systems we put in place are based on IP,''' Guo says. "But you can't do any of this if you don't have the bandwidth."

Between 2001 and 2003, the court system upgraded its WAN from OC-3 (155Mbit/s) SONET rings upstate, and a Gigabit Ethernet MAN in Manhattan. Now the system runs OC-48 (2.5Gbit/s) in the northern part of the state and connects facilities in the five boroughs with 10Gbit/s Dense Wave Division Multiplexing gear. The court system uses Nortel SONET optical routers and Cisco DWDM switches in its WAN. More than 200 Nortel Gigabit Ethernet switches make up the backbone, distribution and access layers across the LAN.

A busy backbone
Riding on the same pipes as the IP surveillance traffic is the court system's wide-reaching IP telephony and videoconferencing network. Eight Nortel Communication Server IP PBXs operate state-wide, supporting 5,000 Nortel IP phones, installed last year. Guo says more than 10,000 IP phones (two of every three handsets) will be IP by year-end. The VoIP system replaces a mix of ageing Nortel PBXs and Verizon Centrex lines - saving what Guo estimates will be about $50 per seat, or $750,000 per year.

In addition to VoIP, the court system widely uses IP videoconferencing as a way for lawyers, judges and defendants to meet without travelling all over the city.

In the Bronx Superior Courthouse, for example, six soundproof booths house IP videoconferencing stations, with a Sony IP camera and microphone and room for three people - usually a lawyer, a client and a friend or relative.

At Rikers Island prison 10 miles away (or three hours away, depending on traffic) similar booths are set up in six specially outfitted cells, with IP cameras behind bullet-proof glass. Inmates can talk to their lawyers in private, or appear at court proceedings in front of a judge inside one of the hundreds of IP-video-enabled courtrooms state-wide. The law says defendants must appear in person before a judge only for arraignments.

"Lawyers do not have to go all the way to Rikers to see clients," says Frank Cupak, systems co-ordinator for New York's 12th Judicial District in the Bronx. "Attorneys can see more clients in a day with the video system. They also no longer have an excuse to delay a hearing because they couldn't make it out to Rikers."

The court does 8,000 conferences per year from the prison island, which houses eight jails used by the city. This conferencing cut the number of prisoner transports by a third last year.

"In the past a probation officer had to take a full day to move prisoners from Rikers," Cupak says. "Now that's done in half a day."

This saves money since fewer transports means less expense, though the court system has not measured the savings. It's also a safety improvement.

"There is always risk when moving a prisoner," Cupak says. "This reduces risk: Guards never have to even touch a prisoner to get them to a hearing - there's no one to hit."