Fact or Fallacy: Video Cameras Are More Than Just Another Set of Eyes
From public access to artificial intelligence-powered capabilities, surveillance casts a wider net than generally acknowledged.
First responders know the benefits of video surveillance for public safety in U.S. communities, but they may not be aware of some of this technology’s lesser-known capabilities, which support evidence gathering, improved community relations and monitoring hazardous situations.
Fact: Video Surveillance Is Transforming Police Work
Wireless video solutions have evolved over the years to aid the police and public safety agencies in crime reduction. Surveillance cameras stationed on city streets have become commonplace in many neighborhoods, commercial districts, high-risk areas, busy intersections and municipal buildings.
With wireless solutions that feed real-time video to a centralized command center, public safety agencies can visually monitor these locations and quickly respond to incidents. Agencies can stream video from command centers to patrol cars or directly to officers with handheld devices to improve situational awareness. Surveillance video coded with dates and times can also serve as visual evidence for future investigations.
Fallacy: Video Surveillance Cameras Don’t Deter Crime
According to an extensive study conducted by Motorola, neighborhoods where surveillance cameras have been deployed saw a reduction in crime of up to 40 percent. The cameras make previously hidden areas visible to the police and public safety agencies, improving response time to crimes or other incidents.
For example, in Hartford, Conn., first responders use surveillance cameras alongside a technology that checks for gunfire and provides the police with a 24/7 visual of what’s happening on city streets. Hartford’s command center receives real-time views of the activity, which is analyzed together with data feeds from the system.
Fact: Video Surveillance Offers Several Cost Benefits
Although there are costs associated with installing and maintaining surveillance cameras, they provide an effective alternative to active monitoring by public safety officials. Without surveillance, certain neighborhoods would have many officers patrolling the streets, resulting in additional staffing costs. With live video feeds, agencies can better use their resources as they dispatch offers to the right locations.
On top of that, agencies can install surveillance cameras in areas that don’t need active monitoring to free up their budgets. Many agencies use wireless video networks to monitor real-time time traffic conditions in congested cities. Traffic signal cameras are a good example of a technology that doesn’t require the presence of an officer to document violations and identify perpetrators.
"The cameras make previously hidden areas visible to the police and public safety agencies, improving response time to crimes or other incidents.”
Zeus Kerravala Principal, ZK Reserach
Fallacy: Video Surveillance Technology Is Not Versatile
Wireless video surveillance is a multipurpose public safety technology that’s not only used for crime reduction. There are several other practical applications that include event monitoring, traffic control and enforcement, and hazmat response. Surveillance is used to keep an eye on crowded public events such as political rallies and sports games.
Using surveillance in these instances significantly improves safety and crowd control. For event monitoring, a different type of surveillance may be used, such as a portable wireless solution deployed for a short time and reused at other events. Portable solutions are also deployed during building fires and hazmat incidents to help firefighters and hazardous materials specialists make quicker decisions.
Fact: Data Analytics Significantly Improve Surveillance
The latest video surveillance solutions come with analytics software that can thoroughly monitor an area and alert the police or public safety presence on the street or a command center about crimes in progress. The recordings from these incidents also can be analyzed later to aid investigations. With video analytics, command centers can manage hundreds of cameras, which wasn’t possible in the past.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology has been testing a tool that could make it easier for public safety agencies to use cutting-edge analytics to detect footage of incidents or crimes streaming live from specific cameras. The tool, called the Analytics Container Environment, is a modular framework for running containerized analytics on streaming video.
Fallacy: Only Public Safety Can Access Video Surveillance
The general public can access surveillance footage too. For example, the Citizen Virtual Patrol is a network of publicly owned cameras in Newark, N.J., that show what’s happening on the streets. It was created to allow people in the community to virtually patrol their neighborhoods and help the police spot criminal activity.
Newark’s Department of Public safety has dubbed the technology an “invaluable tool for real-time crime reporting.” The 24/7 public surveillance system is linked to hundreds of cameras in Newark, allowing anyone with an account to sign in from a web browser. While this has raised privacy concerns among some groups, the cameras only show what an observer on the street would see.
Fact: Artificial Intelligence Reduces False Alarms
Artificial intelligence is another technology that has improved video surveillance. Advanced AI modeling, for example, continually learns what a typical scene looks like and reduces false alarms since it can recognize abnormal events. Meanwhile, metadata filtering automatically recognizes places, objects and activities. The metadata relating to every scene is then processed and stored, which helps speed investigations related to certain incidents. Public safety can use the metadata to identify people and add context to video streams. As a result, intelligent information can be retrieved from massive amounts of footage.
Then, there’s behavioral analytics, which has already been integrated into some cutting-edge surveillance systems around the world. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, this AI-enabled software was used by municipalities to enforce social distancing rules.