In technical terms, the new security cameras at Fibre Federal Credit Union, Longview, Wash., are Honeywell 550 TVL high-resolution color cameras equipped with Sony Super HAD CCD image sensors with 4-9mm auto iris-aspherical mounted in a ruggidized domes.
Translating that, the new cameras offer the difference between the conventional television picture you grew up with and today’s flat screen high-definition sets. Like going from a VCR to a DVR.
The cameras also take photos from several angles, which means a robber can’t hide his face by wearing something as simple as a baseball cap. It also means that if anything does happen, law enforcement officials are armed with a crisp photo of the robber instead of a fuzzy one.
Bill Cedergren, vice president of branch operations, explained that the need to upgrade security became evident after robbers hit three credit unions, including two Fibre Federal branches and the office of a credit union that later merged with Fibre Federal.
He described the robbery at the West Kelso branch as a vicious takeover robbery.
The robber pepper-sprayed employees and customers in the face after lining them up against a wall.
“We just didn’t have that clear a picture of the guy who did it,” Cedergren said. “We had cameras at each of our locations, as well as a VCR to record all the action from those cameras,” he said. “Some of the cameras were out of date, and the VCRs weren’t providing very good pictures either.”
Fibre Federal launched a security upgrade. All cameras and playback equipment were replaced. Additional cameras were installed to allow straight-on photos, and HD monitors were placed in all lobbies and above the teller line to alert visitors.
Total cost for all seven branches and the main office was $110,000, a price tag Cedergren considers well worth it if it prevents even one threat to members and employees.
Maintenance is no problem, he added. There’s no film to worry about, and when the DVR hard drive is filled, the DVR deletes old videos to make room for new footage. There’s no need to put in a new videotape every day as each Fibre Federal location used to do.
It may be early to declare the new cameras have deterred robberies, but Cedergren noted, “Many, many members have commented on the security upgrades. They tell us how pleased they are. They feel more comfortable coming to our locations. If the good people are noting it and commenting on it, probably the bad people who have come in have noticed it as well. There has also been very positive reaction from employees.”
Those employees have received more security training, and have been taught to be proactive. For example, if they feel someone who has come into the credit union is scoping the branch for a potential robbery, they approach the person and ask if they can help them open an account or cash a check.
“We have also initiated what is basically an alert signal,” Cedergren said. “For example, if somebody is back in a break room or a vault area, we have put a signal light in those areas. If somebody out front feels something is going on that shouldn’t be occurring, they can hit a button to activate the signal light.”
“It tells employees who aren’t out front, don’t go out into the lobby area until everything is OK. We’ve also put monitors in those back areas so employees can look and see what is actually going on.”
Cedergren noted that it’s easy to get caught up in daily routines and not pay enough attention to certain issues, such as security.
“Don’t put security on the back burner,” he urged. “It’s too important for that.”
He also recommended the step Fibre Federal has taken of lowering its cameras so there is a better face shot of the person being recorded. Many people come in wearing baseball caps, and when the camera is looking down on them, the bill of the cap shields their faces. If the person is pictured from eye level, there is a clear picture.
In an interview in a local newspaper, Fibre Federal CEO Larry Hoff stressed how much he prefers the cameras to other steps he feels would intrude on the personal freedom of members and other visitors.
“You should be able to walk in with anything you want, with anything you have,” he declared. “It’s a freedom. It’s a liberty. You shouldn’t have to take your shoes off. You shouldn’t have to be metal-checked.”
–ecourter@cutimes.com