Video Policing

By Maroney, Al | Law & Order, April 2006 | Go to article overview

Video Policing


Maroney, Al, Law & Order


Imagine an officer sitting at a console in a dimly lit room whose attention is caught by a person who appears to be following the path of a young child. The officer focuses his attention to the person as the child turns a corner and the older male does the same. She alerts a nearby dispatcher to start a patrol unit to the area as she continues to observe the unfolding situation.

How valuable is this "head start" law enforcement has been given by virtue of closed-circuit television cameras (CCTV)? What if the person was in the process of abducting the child? What if the person was a sex offender casing his prey? More importantly, what if the child was yours? CCTV has extraordinary potential in not only identifying predators who continue to terrorize and victimize our communities, but would serve as a deterrent to crime also.

For decades, law enforcement has been utilizing innovative technology to assist in reducing crime as well as to aid officers and civilian employees in completing their work more efficiently. These technological advances include computer-aided dispatch, computers in patrol vehicles, forensic analysis and cameras in patrol cars that monitor the actions of the officer during traffic stops. Closed Circuit Video Television (CCTV) surveillance cameras already capture many of us as we venture throughout our daily tasks in public.

They are silent, they don't attract our attention, and they never blink. The use of video cameras as a crime deterrent has been used in Great Britain since 1961 when black and white cameras were installed in the London Underground Railway system. Here in the United States, the effectiveness of this technology for private business settings demonstrates its potential monumental significance for safety in our neighborhoods. However, the task of using video cameras in residential neighborhoods will be a matter of not only funding, but a task of obtaining social acceptance in those areas.

Historical Perspective

Video surveillance cameras are not new to our society and they have been increasingly used in everyday settings. Citizens are already unknowingly observed dozens of times every day in most commercial establishments. Putting cameras in the streets appears to be the next logical and reasonable application of this technology as an additional safety measure for our residents.

In London, these systems integrate state-of-the-art equipment with remarkable resolution and infrared nighttime capability. They record camera images to use in criminal prosecution and/or police investigations. The systems include sophisticated computer-assisted scanning operations, motion detection facilities and zoom features. They can often track an individual through town day or night from a single control room that creates a full profile of contacts and activities undertaken by the individual(s).

Britain has more CCTV systems specifically to monitor the behavior of its citizens in public places than any other capitalist nation. They also credit video monitoring technology for having more impact on the evolution of law enforcement than any other technology in the past two decades. Originally installed around Britain to deter burglary, assault and car theft, most camera systems have been used to combat "anti-social behavior," including many minor offenses such as littering, urinating in public, traffic violations, obstruction, drunkenness and evading meters in parking lots.

During the investigation into the attack on the Admiral Duncan pub (a gay bar in London) by a neo-Nazi group in 1993, the police started by collecting all of the video recordings made in the area. The investigators spotted a subject with a blue duffel bag like the one they knew the bomb was in. Shortly afterward, they saw the same man without the blue bag.

Investigators then accessed London Underground Railway cameras and found the same man and were able to get a high-definition shot of his face. …

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