UMPD tests thermal imaging camera for more bridge safety

The camera on the Washington Avenue Bridge is currently in a testing phase while police work out software glitches

The thermal imaging camera, pictured on Jan. 17, 2017, is located on the northeast side of Washington Avenue bridge. The camera will move to a more ideal location once the testing phase is finished.

Courtesy of Dina Carpenter-Graffy

The thermal imaging camera, pictured on Jan. 17, 2017, is located on the northeast side of Washington Avenue bridge. The camera will move to a more ideal location once the testing phase is finished.

Bella Dally-Steele

University of Minnesota Police Department is testing a new device that could provide additional safety for one of campus’s main passageways.

The device — a thermal imaging surveillance camera — was installed on the Washington Avenue Bridge Oct. 2016, and campus police have since been ironing out technical issues with the camera. The device will be moved to a permanent location with more visibility when testing is finished.

The University bought the camera from Forward Looking Infrared, or FLIR, said Public Safety Emergency Community Control Manager Jeff Lessard.

The camera can track body heat from over 600 feet at a wide range of temperatures, said FLIR Director of Business Development Mike Chaffee. Unlike night vision cameras, thermal ones can see through otherwise obstructive elements, such as brush and fog.

Chaffee said the camera is a model often used by colleges, military facilities and airports to monitor public safety and deter crime. 

Lessard said UMPD considered purchasing the camera for months and hoped to receive a grant to pay for the $2,500 camera. Ultimately, UMPD decided to pay for it with University Services money to quicken the process.

Since installation, the camera has faced compatibility issues with the software used to read its images, Lessard said. Images from the camera are infrequent, he said, and keeping it online for extended time periods is difficult.

While the difficulties were unexpected, Lessard said UMPD is confident it can find a solution.

He said the UMPD decided to place the camera on the bridge between West and East Bank campuses to watch both shorelines and the river.

Public safety issues unique to the river area can be hard to detect with normal cameras, Lessard said. Heat-imaging cameras will help to better identify and act on these concerns.

Lessard said UMPD will wait until after the new camera enters regular use to choose whether the school needs more in other parts of campus.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the distance the camera can track body heat. It can track body heat from over 600 feet.