By Nicholas Dynon, Imran Aziz and Matthew Naylor.
Surveillance has perhaps been the most significant legacy of 9/11. The continuing threat posed by global terrorism has driven huge amounts of government investment into electronic surveillance, as well as both wide and targeted physical monitoring systems in cities. Digitised mobile camera surveillance in particular presents a powerful weapon in counterterrorism and law enforcement, yet this emerging technology remains relatively undiscovered.
The UK boasts the world’s most extensive CCTV coverage. It is estimated that most individuals are seen by a camera an average of 340 times per day and, in Central London, an individual will be on camera for about 95 percent of the time. Compared to the UK, CCTV use in other jurisdictions is limited by a range of fiscal, legislative and privacy constraints. Surveillance cameras cannot be everywhere and, despite their ubiquity in modern streetscapes, they lack the type of panoptic capability decried by civil libertarians and idealised by Hollywood films such as Enemy of the State.
According to the Queen’s University Surveillance Studies Centre, the likely consequence of camera surveillance is that “crime and undesirable conduct are displaced into neighbouring areas once cameras are installed in a target location”. The centre cited a San Francisco study, which found violent crime decreased within 250 metres of ‘open-street’ surveillance cameras, but increased beyond 250 metres. Crime, like water, finds the gaps and exploits them. Filling those gaps is critical, and the introduction and use of new mobile camera technology has been heralded as the solution.
Mobile and Body Worn Cameras
Mobile and body worn cameras have traditionally been used for the same purposes as static CCTV: deterrence and evidence. But it has been issues around use of force, such as the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, and the need to protect both police and civilians that have intensified calls for police to be wearing body worn vest (BWV) technology. It has been recognised that the behaviour of both parties changes when a BWV system is involved.
The first empirical study on the use of body worn cameras by police was released last December by researchers at Cambridge University’s Institute of Criminology. The results from this 12-month study of California’s Rialto Police Department indicated a 59 percent drop in use of force by officers wearing BWV and an 87 percent drop in complaints against officers. These findings are consistent with those of similar studies.
If police and security personnel were not recording their actions in responding to an incident, then an onlooker with a smart phone/device would undoubtedly be recording their actions. According to the US Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, “given that police now operate in a world in which anyone with a phone camera can record video footage of a police encounter, body worn cameras help police departments ensure events are also captured from an officer’s perspective.”
Echoing international trends, all Australian state jurisdictions have now run trials of body worn cameras, but the approach has been one of caution. “Whether we decide to roll [body worn cameras] out more widely across the organisation is not a decision we are going to rush,” commented Inspector Ian Geddes of Victoria Police via an email interview. “Further work is needed to help us to consider the next steps,” he stated, “including considering the outcomes of other body worn camera trials happening across Australia and the world, as well as the ongoing considerations around evolving technology and data storage needs.”
Indeed, it is the evolving technology that is making law enforcement and security procurement of body worn cameras increasingly complex. While many organisations have trialled and implemented solutions based on transparency, evidentiary and behavioural benefits, emerging second-generation technologies are enabling cameras to do much, much more. The major consideration is now around whether to invest in cameras that can also provide live video feeds, immediate remote response and intelligent analytics aimed at early warning and intervention.
Gaps in First Response
Traditional static CCTV and remote monitoring systems have been limited in providing first responders with real-time information when responding to suspicious events and/or intercepting crime in progress. The majority of video surveillance systems are reactive in nature, in that they record the pictures delivered by video cameras on streets, which are later analysed for evidence or explaining crimes and other incidents. CCTV was very effective, for example, in the hunt for Boston Marathon bombing suspects, but was of no value in preventing the incident.
Even when remote monitoring systems send alarms in real time to security monitoring centres, they are often poor in quality and require the attendance of a security response vehicle to investigate. According to Luke Percy-Dove of Matryx Consulting, “A very high percentage (95 percent) of all alarm traffic is associated with false alarms, meaning most alarm attendances are a waste of time too.” Typically, police will not attend an alarm event unless it can be validated or the premises carries a high level of priority. “And remember, if 95 percent of all alarm events are false, why would they?”
Digital, or second-generation technology, incorporating video analytics can turn existing technology into a proactive system. This allows alarm-receiving centres to make decisions with real-time information, in many cases removing the need for security officer call-out. This results in a significant reduction in costs and false alarms, leading to improved security and proactive responses to situations as they occur.
Once a first responder is deployed to an incident site, however, they still depend on radios to relay information back to central monitoring stations. In most jurisdictions this includes police, who are unlikely to have anything other than radio with which to communicate while on foot. According to Percy-Dove, this means that whoever is in charge of coordinating the response needs to rely on words to understand the situation on the ground. “In this day and age and with the technology available, it is crazy it still happens this way but people do not know better and what is possible,” he stated.
Some first responders have the option of sending images from a car or transmission hub to the control, but this is limited by the necessity of being in close proximity to the hub. “As we all know, when a police officer is dealing with a situation they are not necessarily near or anywhere close to a car or hub,” comments Imran Aziz of safety and security solutions provider Xtralis. “Also, these units will not be able to provide users with GPS information for use with mapping software.”
Additionally, Percy-Dove notes, “Some vehicles are now fitted with video capability, but as far as I know these are recorded only in the vehicle and are not yet broadcast back to the station.” In the case of the Victoria Police, Superintendent Geddes concedes that not all police vehicles are mobile data network enabled.
First Responder Solutions
BWV technology incorporating live-streaming CCTV can provide the potential answer to the real-time intelligence deficit of radio-only communications from the first responder to base. “I think it adds real value because at street level you get to a whole different perspective of what has happened,” states Percy-Dove. “… the key is always to get the best possible information you can.” But it only works if it is plugged into a system that can transmit audio and video in real time to command and control structures so that the intelligence can be analysed and operational decisions made.
Entering the marketplace are a number of innovative solutions for early and reliable detection, and remote visual monitoring for immediate and effective response. The City of London Police (CoLP), for example, has recently commenced a trial of a solution that provides live transmissions from police vehicles and BWV to better assess situations and more efficiently deploy appropriate assistance.
The body worn solution used in the trial has the capability to use multiple types of cameras with the same unit. The recording unit is remote from the camera, so if the camera is pulled off the vest by a member of the public, the recording remains safe on the vest, thus protecting the evidence. It also possesses a live streaming capability and GPS tracking. Solutions like the Xtralis WCCTV Nano technology allow first responders to live stream wirelessly via 3G/4G, LTE and CDMA, as well as satellite, Wi-Fi and broadband networks. Its software allows multiple vests to be monitored at any given time, giving the commanding officers complete situational awareness.
In Australia, local councils, water authorities and electricity authorities are looking towards mobile video-streaming technology to protect assets and people in areas where there is no traditional network infrastructure available.
Rob Galic, Sales Director at Xtralis, says, “Local councils are using the technology for health and safety to protect rangers who are driving in remote areas, and for protection of parking officers.” According to Galic, it is also being used by tow truck companies whose drivers are often the target of aggression by vehicle owners when their cars are being towed from illegally parked areas. “If the tow truck driver is feeling threatened or is concerned that their truck is at risk, they can hit a panic button that will alert a control centre and stream live video while recording the incident.”
Solutions such as these are presenting law enforcement, public transport and security procurement departments with the choice between a deterrence and evidentiary tool on the one hand versus all that and a whole lot more on the other. In essence, it is a choice between a tool that can record a criminal act and a tool that can proactively prevent one. Given the increasing political, social, financial and human cost of crime and the continuing spectre of terrorism, the latter option is difficult to ignore.