- TV Search
A case study of the Harris County Sheriff's Office
With the SnapStream Enterprise TV appliance, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office was able to expand their use of news media broadcasts for investigative work and public relations while reducing costs.
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) Public Information Office previously contracted with an outside media monitoring agency to keep track of relevant news. If the HCSO needed to review a TV news story, even just a segment, a copy of the clip had to be purchased individually from the agency on a VHS cassette tape. These clips could be prohibitively expensive, and accordingly, the purposes for which the HCSO could justify ordering them were somewhat limited.
For example, during the investigation of a police-involved shooting, an apparent witness appeared on a number of local news programs with a constantly changing account. In order to determine whether the person had actually witnessed the event, or was repeating information from earlier news broadcasts, the HCSO needed to order segments from 33 different news programs. Their total bill for these clips was over $2,000. Along with other factors, the size of the bill for this service prompted HCSO to seek another solution.
The HCSO’s Public Information Office wanted to reduce their reliance on TV clip services by finding a way to record and monitor television in-house. Until recently, most government offices addressed their needs for media monitoring with banks of VCRs and reusable VHS cassette tapes. However, the fast-moving nature of law enforcement required the HCSO to be able to capture TV on the fly and potentially store recordings for months.
Now, the HCSO uses a 10-tuner Snapstream Enterprise TV appliance to monitor Houston-area and national television news programs in-house. Regular news programs are set to be automatically recorded and saved on SnapStream’s turnkey DVR appliance. Over the HCSO’s LAN, staff members review the broadcasts and log any segments that mention the department, all from the convenience of their desktop PCs. These segments can be edited locally and then stored for future use. Officers and administrators can view recorded clips on networked PCs (See Figure 1) or on wall-mounted LCD displays in the PIO or the department ’s conference room (See Figures 2, 3a and 3b).
Through dramatically reduced cost and increased speed and convenience, SnapStream’s DVR technology not only streamlines existing uses of TV news clips, it also opens up possible uses that were previously prohibited by cost or time constraints. These uses include:
•Statement Verification: As in the example above, the HCSO can track statements made to the media by people involved in ongoing investigations.
•Public Information Management: In media-sensitive bureaus such as Internal Affairs and Homicide, DVR technology can help officers manage and monitor information that is released to the public.
•Training: Recordings of TV news are useful in training officers in issues such as identity theft that receive heavy media coverage.
•Briefings: A computer running the TV recording software in the HCSO conference room makes it easy for command staff to be briefed on TV news coverage of crime, emergencies or the HCSO itself.
The HCSO’s Snapstream Enterprise TV appliance provides more than three months’ worth of fault-tolerant storage, making it possible for the PIO to achieve near-total awareness of media coverage of the Sheriff’s Office. Furthermore, the appliance enables users to capture live television on demand, enabling the PIO to capture law enforcement events as they unfold in the media. These capabilities have become an important asset to the PIO’s vital responsibility of managing the HCSO’s relationship with the public whom they have sworn to serve and protect.
HCSO SnapStream Configuration
A DirecTV satellite signal is demodulated upstairs and distributed throughout the Sheriff’s Office via coaxial cable. The Snapstream Enterprise appliance resides in the server room and is administered by the HCSO in-house IT department (See Figures 4a and 4b). SnapStream is connected to the LAN, and any networked computer with Link software is able to stream live TV and stream or download previously recorded TV content. Users can save segments, which can then be edited or burned to DVD locally.
About the Harris County Sheriff's Office
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office provides law enforcement and criminal justice functions to the city of Houston and unincorporated Harris County. These functions range from detective and patrol services to court bailiffs and criminal detention, employing more than 2,500 sworn officers. The HCSO also operates important education and training programs that contribute to crime awareness, drug abuse prevention and public safety. The HCSO is responsible for the third-largest county in the United States, and every day, nearly four million people depend on county officers to protect their lives and livelihoods.
Figure 1: Employees of the HCSO Public Information Office can view recorded news broadcasts on their PCs using SnapStream's Link client software.
Figure 2: Access to SnapStream is also available on a PC connected to this LCD display in the HCSO conference room. Here, a network administrator tests the operation of the Snapstream Firefly remote control.
Figures 3a and 3b: Four LCD screens in the PIO display live TV feeds. The desktop from a connected PC can be exported onto the screens, enabling them to display recorded TV from the SnapStream appliance.
Figure 4a: The Snapstream Enterprise appliance is equipped with a 2-terabyte hard drive array with RAID-5 fault protection.
Figure 4b: The SnapStream Enterprise appliance is rack-mounted in one of the HCSO's server cabinets.