CCTV and Private Security Help Investigators

By Hawkins, Jeffrey | Law & Order, November 2002 | Go to article overview

CCTV and Private Security Help Investigators


Hawkins, Jeffrey, Law & Order


Law enforcement investigators know that certain businesses have closed circuit television (CCTV); banks, convenience stores and gas stations are the ones most often thought of after a crime occurs in their place of business. However the advancement in technology and growth of electronic security by the private sector opens up some new investigative avenues that may not have been previously thought of by police.

In the Princess Diana tragedy five years ago, hotel security video surveillance of an alley was used to disprove that her driver taunted photographers before the vehicular chase and accident. This year alone investigators used a private facilities exterior CCTV system to aid in several high profile investigations. Earlier this year, while investigating the Elizabeth Smart abduction in California, investigators focused on security surveillance tapes of a medical center's parking lot located near the victim's home.

Several months ago, during a child abduction in a Texas K-Mart parking lot, police used security cameras to review and substantiate the actual kidnapping. And very recently an Indiana department store security camera caught the parental beating of a child in their parking lot, leading to a nationwide search for the mother based on the video recordings.

The growth of electronic surveillance in the private sector continues to grow steadily according to John Ellenberger, senior product manager for Pelco, a word-wide leader of CCTV security equipment, located in Clovis, CA. The CCTV industry has grown on the average of 10-15% per year over the last five years.

The first thing that needs to be done by all law enforcement agencies is to get to know the business, organizations and institutions within the jurisdiction- think of this as an extension of the Community Oriented Policing concepts. Visit the security staff at key business, public attractions and healthcare organizations to learn what type of CCTV systems they have, where their cameras are located, how they record surveillance, how long they keep the recordings.

Often law enforcement investigators are surprised at the sheer number of cameras an institution may have, both inside and outside a building. It is not uncommon to see 50-100 cameras in a medium to large organization. Once an institution's security command center is visited, most law enforcement officers get a better appreciation of the amount of area that is kept under CCTV surveillance.

Law enforcement investigators must sometimes carefully search for CCTV in an area, as technology has changed the traditional look of cameras. The days of the large box on the outside of a building with the camera inside is fading fast. Digital technology has shrunk the actual size of the camera and they now come in all different sizes and housings, some customized to actually blend in with a building's exterior. However, the amount of detail they may record, even at a distance, is astounding.

Ellenberger recalls a case in England in the early 1990s where a small boy was tied to railroad tracks and killed. …

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