Where will the future of video surveillance take us?

During a recent visit to the lake house, we were told of a possible burglary in progress at a neighbor’s home. We quickly jumped into action and immediately realized that the open door to their home wasn’t a burglary at all but likely damage from a vehicle striking the door frame. Luckily our neighbor had a video surveillance system that records each moment there is movement in the camera’s view. After a few minutes of review on the computer screen we quickly identified the offending vehicle. The red dually pickup truck with a fifth wheel equipment trailer backed into the driveway and struck the building. A short search found our offender in neighborhood and the situation was resolved civilly. The lesson here was that we were all impressed with the surveillance systems’ capability and the usefulness, which paid for itself considering the amount of damage the truck and trailer caused. Without the advantage of having the evidence of the incident recorded, we would likely have never found the person responsible.

It seems that this progressing trend in video surveillance is making its way into our daily lives in many ways. From building surveillance systems, to traffic signal cameras, to neighborhood pole cameras, video surveillance is taking place each day on millions of Americans. Even the use of drones with video capability is now in use for border protection, drug surveillance, and overhead tracking of suspicious persons in our metropolitan cities. We now even use patrol cars equipped with multiple cameras connected to license plate reader software. Not to mention the use of facial recognition software being used in the gaming industry. The bottom line is that we, as a society, are moving towards a video record for crime detection and prevention.

What is open for discussion is the ethical use and discretion of video surveillance systems on the general public. Law enforcement needs to closely examine cases that may infringe on personal liberties and adopt measures that accurately reflect the legal and moral use of these new technologies. As of yet, I see few police chiefs and leaders in the legal community approaching this wisely. Rather, we are painting what is now a mole hill with broad strokes. Very soon, perhaps within the next decade, the proliferation of video technologies will become a mountain with a lot of discontent from average citizens crying foul over it’s use.

Additionally, the security industry is on the verge of expanding these technologies beyond the scope of their ‘observe and report’ demeanor. Specifically, the manager of a department store may use facial recognition software to alert his loss prevention and security personnel of a proposed shopper entering the store who matches the digital profile of a known shoplifter was banned from entering the store again. Again, the review of legal implications must be considered.

In summary, our use of new technologies is outpacing our adaptation to it within our protections of our constitution. Both law enforcement and the security industry needs to realize the implications for unethical use and be prepared to appropriately use and safeguard the information they’re entrusted to protect.

5 Axioms of Investigations


1.       A provable lie is the next best thing to a confession.

How true.  While you might not get the statements you desire to secure that arrest warrant, you just might have enough to send the case to the Grand Jury. Human nature has taught us that everyone lies, it’s just to what extent of the involvement in a crime is what we have to prove. Good investigators know when they are being lied to and how to frame questions that can be used later.  Once documented, lies are a dead end for the bad guy, as it now has reduced his credibility in view of the court.

2.       Three men can keep a secret if two of them are dead.

This maybe more of American folklore than it may be an axiom, but it does certainly fit into investigations.  If you find others involved in a crime, certainly you’ll get different versions of the events. Somewhere between the different versions, lays the truth. Criminals know this and few are willing to spend more time in jail than if they cooperated.  Leveraging that fact with the suspect in custody has resulted in more confessions and plea bargains than any other tactic.

3.       There is a conspiracy in every crime, whether they know it or not.

Talk to anyone who knows about the crime you are investigating and the first thing they’ll tell you is that they didn’t know anything.  Don’t take it personal.  Instead, do the homework and be prepared on how to make a connection from the crime to the others involved.  Don’t bluff, as it can backfire and you lose credibility.  Avoid ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers and ask for explanations that increase dialogue.  You have the advantage that they haven’t ‘lawyered up’ and can use their statements against them later if needed.  Get as many details as possible when they’re vulnerable to profess their ignorance.

4.       The best latent fingerprint at the scene of the crime will be exclusionary.

Victims and unknowing street cops are notorious for handling evidence before it can be identified or recovered.  Let the professionals recover the evidence as it will be their testimony and expertise that is called into question in court.  Exclusionary prints are a part of the process. Just like searching the informant before and after a controlled buy, it adds to the credibility of your investigative effort.  Most juries are well informed and intelligent, despite all the hocus-pocus crap from CSI reruns.

5.       Never help the informant out of trouble with the law on the front side.

Informants are notorious for getting into trouble with the law when they’re supposed to be ‘working’ for you.  You’ll lose respect from your peers, and may even break some laws trying to help out a just arrested knucklehead who doesn’t care about your career or how you support your family.  Keep in mind, these are not personal relationships but business.  Check with your department’s policy on informant handling and if they don’t have one inquire with a supervisor.  In most cases, it is better to allow the informant to go through the criminal justice process without your involvement until they reach a point where a prosecutor is assigned the case.