• Do You Need More Cameras?

    Last week, a few days after the bombing of the Boston Marathon, federal investigators released images to the public of two men suspected of planting the bombs. Much of the the footage used by the FBI to aid in the investigation was captured by camera systems that belonged to a department store. That footage was essential to the success of the subsequent investigation into the bombing.

    Soon after that I saw several articles that talked about how CCTV camera sales were booming, making the connection to the role the cameras played in helping law enforcement catch the suspects.

    Given the recent press surrounding the issue of surveillance, you might be wondering whether your business needs more cameras. Before you call a camera installer, however, take some time to think through what it is you hope to accomplish.

    Cameras are first and foremost investigative tools. By that I mean that they are useful after an incident has occurred. Video footage can provide evidence to aid in an investigation. In my opinion, cameras do little to nothing to actually deter criminal activity. If they did, we would have very little crime because there are very few places we can now go where we are not captured on video.

    The footage from last week in Boston showed how much surveillance was in use in the area around the marathon finish line. The suspects likely knew that their images would be captured on many cameras, but they went ahead with their plan anyway. In the UK, considered to be the trailblazer for public surveillance, protesters rioted in August of 2011 and caused massive amounts of damage all over the country. They were not deterred by the guarantee that their images would be captured on video surveillance footage.

    Before you have cameras installed, consider the following:

    • What is your threat?
    • What are you trying to accomplish by installing the camera system?
    • If an incident does occur, will you have footage that will be useful in an investigation?
    • How will you store your footage so that it is safe? Can you access the footage on the web?
    • Are you going to monitor the cameras or hire a monitoring service?

    The specific issues that you are trying to address are probably the most important considerations in determining the functionality and placement of your cameras. You need to think about how the footage will be used by you or law enforcement in an investigation. For example, if you have an assault occur in your parking area, you need to ensure that you have adequate coverage to provide video that can identify the assailant. Camera technology has advanced to the point where you can cover a large open area with a single camera and still zoom in on the footage enough to provide identifiable facial features to police. Another option in this scenario is to use multiple cameras; one to cover the large open area and others placed near the path suspect would use to escape to capture detailed facial features.

    I have heard stories from clients about how some security system installers send a technician out to install cameras at their site and ask the client, “Ok, so where do you want us to put the cameras?” If that ever happens to you, just tell the installer that they can leave the cameras in their van and you will call someone else. This is equivalent to a chef coming to your table to ask you for the recipe to cook the meal you just ordered.

    In order to know where you need cameras, you have to understand how they function and you need to have in mind what it is you want to use them for. We are frequently asked to do this for our clients, and we consistently save them money by helping them avoid installing too many cameras. We also help them get a better return on their investment into cameras by helping them determine the functionality and placement that best suits their needs.

    In closing, let me make one additional point. You may think that you can save some money by installing “dummy” or fake cameras, instead of paying a service to install real cameras. First, remember that cameras are more useful as an investigative tool than as deterrent to crime. Second, the general expectation by anyone who sees your cameras will be that your cameras are working. This leads to at least one seriously negative possible outcome. Assume that you have installed fake cameras in an attempt to deter theft from vehicles in your parking lot. During a theft, one of your employees confronts the thief and your employee is seriously injured. If you are sued by the injured party, you may be vulnerable to a negligence lawsuit since you knew there was a problem and did not take adequate steps to mitigate the risk.

    As with any security measure, you should not overreact when something bad happens. Take a thoughtful approach, and you will be much more satisfied with the outcome.

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