Caught on Video: CCTV Surveillance

CCTV Surveillance The next time you walk down a city street, take a look around you and notice the number of video cameras and motion activation devices present that help control traffic, regulate complicated machinery, and deter crime. They’re right there next to the street lights and traffic signals. Government buildings, police cars and even shopping malls use video surveillance equipment in many ways. This same equipment used to control and regulates traffic flow and machinery is known as CCTV video systems. One purpose is to regulate and another is to deter.

It is interesting that criminals have become aware of CCTV systems and consider the cameras when planning their strategy for a criminal activity. CCTV is a visual assessment tool. Visual assessment means having proper identifiable or descriptive information during or after an incident. These systems should not be used independently from other security measures. Identification goals to consider when implementing a CCTV system:

1. Personal Identification: Ability of the viewer to personally identify something within the scene, beyond a shadow of a doubt. This does not reflect human identification, but rather, the ability to identify specific information or objects within an image. Personal identification has two very important phases: the relationship of size and detail of an image, and the angle of view from which the scene is viewed. Without careful consideration of both aspects, your CCTV system merely records useless, unidentifiable images.

2. Action Identification: Ability of the system to capture the events occurring in front of the camera as they actually happened. Because of the need for accuracy, using time-lapse video could cause problems. For example, if using a digital recorder or DVR, with a low image per second frame rate setting, some images may not be captured on the recorder. The lower frame rate setting is desired by many digital CCTV system users to reduce storage requirements of surveillance video on hard drives. The upside is with the cost of hard drive space becoming more economical, digital CCTV systems should be upgraded so the images per second feature can be increased and more surveillance video stored for review should it become necessary. On the Primeau Forensics YouTube page, there are video examples of this frame rate scenario:

Another problem in the analog systems, when a multiplexor switches between cameras for viewing different areas under security, an activity could occur at one of surveillance areas while that camera is off and another is on. Multiplexors are like video switchers; they periodically switch cameras to view by security personnel. The output of the multiplexor is almost always recorded to a time-lapse videotape recorder using inch tape stock.

3. Scene Identification: Ability for the scene to stand on its own merit. In a building with many similar hallways, equipped with surveillance cameras having similar angles of view, how can the hallways be differentiated when a CCTV monitor or tape is viewed? If an action is being recorded, how can each hallway be distinguished from the others? Scene identification is an important, but often overlooked, a form of identification vital to effective video systems.

There’s no margin for error when it comes to public safety. Metropolitan police departments all across the country are doing their best to deter criminal activity. When it can’t be prevented, the agencies want to apprehend and help prosecute the perpetrators. With human resources stretched thin, video surveillance has become a critical tool in the war on crime; it puts thousands of extra eyes on the street 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Insight Video Net, LLC (IVN) has emerged as a leading provider of digital media software and services to capture and manage video, especially for the public safety market. IVN has developed software called the Central Management System, or CMS, to store, retain and manage the video that comes from fixed as well as mobile cameras. CMS makes sense of huge amounts of raw video and turns it into indisputable evidence admissible in court.

Cameras in public have become a way of life and we have grown to accept them and are used to them. In a city environment, a camera is connected to a closed-circuit video television system hence the term (CCTV). This system has the ability to regulate traffic by adjusting traffic signals according to traffic conditions.

In law enforcement, video recording systems are installed in most police cruisers and help bring accidents, drunk driving, and other traffic stop situations into the courtroom. Video forensic experts help courts understand video evidence and video evidence admissibility.

From high tech tom low tech, CCTV systems come in many shapes and sizes and wired and wireless combinations. Two manufacturers of high tech systems are Pelco and IVC. Less complicated systems are manufactured by Fairfax Electronics and Safe Mart. Pelco has one of the largest CCTV systems is in place in Denver, Colorado. It is one of the most intricate and largest CCTV systems in place in a city today. The Denver system manufactured by Pelco is comprised of hundreds of closed-circuit cameras in dozens of municipal locations both indoor and outdoor and all connected to a very large computer that can be monitored in many different locations. IVC also specializes in multi-site video networks with remote access to live and stored video and equipment activity.

CCTV systems play a major role in healthcare organizations and hospital operations. Medical practitioners rely on CCTV systems to critical care units under observation 24 hours a day seven days a week.

It is this author’s contention that:

  1. Within five years, every major city across America will have a surveillance system similar to Denver’s in place as well as surveillance systems that will require Video Forensic Consultants involved in litigation to help courts understand the evidence being presented.
  2. There are three primary drivers of video surveillance. The ability to control access to areas that have restrictions, i.e., birth centers, emergency departments, pharmacies, surgical areas. The ability to deter crime. The ability to record data and measure statistical information over a period of time.
  3. General surveillance for after-the-fact (forensic) investigations will continue to play a major role in litigation.
  4. The ability to activity for security and non-security purposes will save institutions substantial amounts of money annually.

Through service agreements, a $2.5 million performance contract, and ongoing support, Johnson Controls has helped WJMC reduce operating costs, improve comfort conditions for patients and staff, enable facility personnel to be more efficient, and significantly reduce energy consumption. In mid-2007, WJMC became the first hospital in Louisiana to earn an ENERGY STAR from the U.S. EPA. In addition, Johnson Controls has helped the hospital to improve ventilation, maximize the efficiency of a new central energy plant, manage utility bills effectively, and continuously improve facility management practices.

In an interview between Pelco (a global leader in CCTV systems) and Tony W. York, CHPA, and CPP, Mr. York stated:

Video security is a fabulous tool when it is integrated with door and alarm controls. Another thing that is really important is the retrieval of the captured video, which provides instant access for those after-the-fact investigations. I would call it revolutionary.

Concerns over violent crime and civil liability lawsuits have caused schools, large corporations, and small businesses to investigate avenues for securing their operations. Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) systems are a popular security tool to combat such problems.

Computer graphics digitally placed on the monitor and video cannot be relied on to provide the sole method of scene identification. These graphics can aid in identifying one scene from another when both have a similar angle of view. Without being able to identify the scene on its own merit, it would be easy to argue that the graphics were added to the tape after the fact.

Preventing crime may be a goal but is not always the result of the billions of dollars worth of closed-circuit television systems in use today. Often times the video footage retrieved from CCTV systems adds a degree of perplexity to due process.

Video surveillance evidence has the potential of lengthening a litigation proceeding beyond that same proceeding without video evidence. It takes additional time and manpower in the legal system for clerical, administrative, and legal to have a video forensic expert examine video evidence as well as the video expert. This evidence is either analog (becoming extinct) or digital.

Motions have to be filed in court for an expert to be able to examine the evidence which adds time and expense to the case. Experts often have to travel to the evidence as law enforcement is often skeptical and reluctant to release video evidence in fear it may become damaged or lost in transit. Authorities must maintain a chain of custody with video forensic evidence the same way they would with any other forensic evidence.

This consideration adds time and cost to a case that has to be paid. Often times it is the court, public defenders office, or another branch of government that absorbs these costs in criminal matters. Other times it’s the defense or plaintiff in a civil matter who will incur the costs of having forensic video evidence authenticated and admitted into the courtroom.

As a video forensic expert, I have testified in cases where analog, as well as digital video evidence, was used. Both require a different methodology for examination and authentication. Every case I have testified in is unique and each judge overseeing those cases has reacted differently to the video evidence presented.

Many courts do not understand video forensic technology which is why it is sometimes looked at as a junk science. However, In an April 12th, 2005 article, the New York Times reported 400 court cases dropped or acquitted because of video evidence contradicting police lies.

The courts that accept video evidence supported by a video forensic expert are usually those that involve an experienced trial attorney. So when presenting video evidence today, analog or digital, admissibility boils down to the arguments of admissibility given by the presenting attorney. When accepted, video evidence can help a jury understand a crime scene or situation more clearly.

Digital video evidence has a better chance of admissibility in court if the evidence follows a chain of custody protocol. Just like other evidence in a crime, law enforcement personnel are responsible for witnessing the exporting of the video evidence and delivering to evidence police lock-up for examination by a qualified video forensic expert. Analog tapes should also be picked up by law enforcement and taken to police lock-up for future examination by qualified video forensic personnel.

Often each party in the litigation will hire their own video forensic expert. For example, in criminal cases, the police have crime labs that employ forensic video experts and the defense seek outside expert assistance. In Civil cases, each party will often seek a forensic expert depending on the position of each side with regard to the video evidence. One example would be authentication and another would be admissibility.

Closed-circuit TV, crime scene recreation video, and cruiser traffic stop footage as evidence has become an element in litigation virtually overnight. Law enforcement agencies and our legal system have come to accept video as evidence in the courtroom and have become accustomed to video forensics as legitimate science.

Unfortunately, those engaged in legal proceedings from time to time try to alter video evidence in their favor which is where the science of video forensics becomes a value to the legal proceeding. There are two recording formats for Closed Circuit TV security systems CCTV:

  1. Digital is video recorded onto a computer hard drive.
  2. Analogue is video recorded onto a magnetic tape.

A CCTV system is a closed-circuit television security system that employs cameras and either an analog tape-based recorder or digital computer or DVR-digital video recorder- based video recorder. Both record camera views onto their system and stores them for later viewing, reviewing, or in the case of a crime committed, identifying. Multiple cameras can be installed at a large or small location and viewed as well as recorded simultaneously in either analog or digital format. Analog incorporating multiplexers, digital incorporates software programs.

The more sophisticated systems, like the ones Indianapolis-manufacturer Pelco carries in Denver, have many adjustments, settings, frame options, and video export options as well as signal routing features. The lower end VHS systems are pretty straight forward and easy to operate but have less features and options. Both systems can incorporate point, tilt zoom or steady nonmoving cameras. The point tilt zoom cameras (PTZ) can move to follow action both automatically and manually. This activity can be operated by security personnel manually or through a technology of motion activation that detects the change in grayscale in the dedicated area. In the second situation of motion activation, the PTZ camera will be activated and follow the motion as it occurs.

Nonmoving cameras capture the area under security in a stationary fashion. The advantage to DVRs is that the quality is far superior to analog especially when images must be retrieved for identification purposes or crime scene recreation. Digital formats add compression to the CCTV video which decreases the size of the video files allowing more video to be stored in the DVR.

Some video evidence in cases where analogue video was used as evidence was recorded on time-lapse VHS tape which has been recycled many times. The examination and authentication process requires a different process to authenticate than digital video. Only Hollywood can produce a high-quality image from a worn-out pixilated (give a definition) time-lapse, low-resolution analog videotape of the suspected crime.

When you factor in how much money it could cost to recover from the crime, pay a forensic expert to try and recover an image, purchasing a digital CCTV system is a much better investment and will produce better forensic results. Tape or analog systems often fail to show useable evidence in a court of law. The main reason is because tapes are recycled over and over and even accidentally erased.

Once a crime has been committed and caught on a digital recording device (DVR), a back up digital video can immediately be made of the crime using digital video technology. This backup video often called “bookmarking” or an alarm file, which is immediately taken out of the normal refresh cue and stored in a safe area for further forensic examination.

When the analogue video is entered as evidence, the court or police make copies for all parties involved in the litigation. Those copies experience generation loss, similar to making copies of a document on a copy machine. Additionally, when storing analog video with repeated playing often has degradation to the original crispness of the image on the videotape especially if the tape has been recycled which is often the case. It is much more difficult and expensive to create an image from 75 dots per inch analog recycled tape than it is to create an image from 300 dots per inch digital image. There is no comparison. The digital video proves time and time again a much clearer image.

Think about a crime-free society using closed-circuit television systems. These security systems reduce the potential for crime in your business, institution, or community. There are bleeding edge closed circuit television systems that can increase security, reduce loss, and prevent crime as well as control intricate machinery and just about other activity you can imagine. Closed Circuit Video Surveillance is one step closer to having a crime-free society safely operating businesses, schools and institutions.

photo credit: IMG_1257 via photopin (license)

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