Polk County Sheriff: News Network Shares Information

Excerpt from an article by Nancy Caronia, Government Video Magazine

Florida’s Polk County has a population of 550,000 situated within 210,000 square miles, an area roughly the size of Rhode Island. That can make it challenging for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, which houses inmates in the county’s jail facilities in addition to its crime prevention duties, to communicate effectively with its 1,700 employees and the general public.

In order to improve internal and external communications between the PCSO, its offices and employees, the court system, schools, and the community at large, the PCSO secured grant monies to establish an electronic information display network (EIDN) within seven PCSO law enforcement and detention facilities.

Named the Sheriff News Network, PCSO chose Visix’s AxisTV digital signage software to sit at the center of the system. The web-based software technology permits access through a single web hosting content server, which delivers updates to remote media players that output audio and video to the EIDN.

One of the major reasons the PCSO turned to digital signage, according to Scott H. Wilder, MPA, CPM, director of communications, PCSO, is that people like their information now via video and audio. “It’s difficult to get people to sit down and read memorandums,” he offered. “That’s what brokered this decision. We have external channels through the SNN — and in the areas where the public has access or is in our buildings, we do customer service type of communications. In this way we are able to reinforce the agency message and culture to employees while providing information to the Polk County general population.”

The seven PCSO facilities were outfitted with Panasonic monitors and Toshiba TVs. One display was placed in each lobby for external messages, and as many as eight different displays were set up in each location for internal communication with PCSO employees.

At the PCSO, the Office of Communications chose to divide its internal displays into three sections. One-half of the display screen posts critical messages such as Crime Stoppers Most Wanted bulletins, proactive crime-fighting initiatives, logistical, tactical, and intelligence information, and training announcements. The other half of the screen is divided into two sections – news is broadcast 24/7 in the upper portion and the lower half is reserved for messages such as birthday wishes or upcoming sports tournaments. External displays in the lobby enable visitors to the courts or detention centers to view the PCSO’s Polk Sheriff 24/7, which also airs on PGTV, Polk County’s government access cable channel, and a number of other PSAs produced by the PCSO’s Office of Communications.

The Office of Communications has a production studio housed in a space within the old jail. “When we opened our new jail, it completely opened the old jail facility here. We’ve converted space into a small studio and an office space for me,” said Matt Costine, video production manager, PCSO. “We do a lot of public service announcements and a lot of training. On the training side, we do different topics each month. And mingled in with all of that are community spotlights.”

The studio is a 30×35-foot space with one wall painted for a green screen effect. A small voiceover recording studio is housed in a converted storage closet. Costine is a one-man production team. “We do everything on a shoestring and it works out somehow,” said Wilder. “We’re thrilled with AxisTV. There is always a learning curve. The more we use it and play with the different features, it’s going to be even better.”

AVI was the systems integrator and handled the installation for all seven sites including the hardware, wiring between monitors and media players, and wall and ceiling mounts for the displays. In addition, AVI built equipment racks for the video distribution gear and players. The installation was completed in about five business days. There were an additional four online training sessions as well as one in-house training day.

The PCSO Office of Communications maintains the system’s content server, trains additional users, and approves and schedules all messages on the displays. Content creators with the appropriate security clearance can update information on SNN on a daily basis. Each individual must log on to the system in order to create, revise, edit, or approve content.

According to Visix president Sean Matthews, the security is “controlled very tightly” due to the public and private displays. “When a media player is set up, the sheriff would have access to all the playlists including public safety announcements and other general population information, but the community contributor would only have access to the general playlist. The media player in the lobby of a facility is only programmed for PSAs, but the one in the deputy locker room is programmed to output information suitable for the internal population of the PCSO.”

Access for content creators is done through user roles and privileges. In this way, an intern who is creating content will have some security clearance, but content will need to be approved before it’s published on the displays. Visix media players support both static and dynamic IP addresses, which enables remote access.

“Those who process approval will receive e-mail notification when a piece is ready for review. That individual receives a thumbnail image on their cell phone, for example, or could log onto a PC to review, edit, or post it,” noted Matthews.

“We have a good internal network, but we were worried about streaming this information across our network – we have hundreds of deputies using it at the same time,” Wilder explained. “AxisTV pushes the video and audio through and loads it on the PCs at each of our facilities, so when it’s not running across our network, it’s playing on our PCs.”

“One of the things about SNN, just like in any marketing campaign, you don’t send the message out once – you send it again and again. That’s one of the things we get from AxisTV.”