Blue Line

Solving surveillance issues in law enforcement

September 30, 2021  By Keith D’Sa

Credit: Axis Communications

In today’s technology-rich environment, intelligent video surveillance systems are making a difference by providing solutions-based analytics to contribute to a safer world. Most often, these systems are used to improve security and to optimize business and city performance. Recent advancements in camera technology provide a preventative element, a tool for real-time monitoring or automatic event assessment, creating safer cities.

In the context of law enforcement, the value of IP surveillance recordings is found at a crime scene, where investigators can review the recording as an initial step in their investigation. Most cities today are working with a surveillance system to monitor the city and manage law enforcement resources efficiently. With video recording data, crimes such as aggressive attacks or intrusions into buildings or restricted areas can be detected but, in most cases, police or guards will not reach the scene in time to prevent the incident. Video recordings of high forensic quality are essential in making investigative work easier but low-quality recordings are often provided and there are often issues with camera installations.

“Recent advancements in camera technology provide a preventative element, a tool for real-time monitoring or automatic event assessment, creating safer cities.”

Here are a few other issues that law officials may have to solve for when dealing with surveillance cameras:


Key evidence is out of the camera’s eye

A badly-situated camera can miss essential details. Many camera installations are done without proper security analysis that defines the exact purpose for the camera and what angle of view is key to capturing essential details related to an incident. A team of professional integrators working closely with law enforcement can determine if the focus should be on violations taking place within a certain perimeter or if the data captured in the recording will be used to provide more precise details. Then, there’s the challenge that occurs when people involved in the incident aren’t captured because they’re outside of the monitored zone. It may seem like they’re simply not there or may be too small for law personnel to determine any useful information. Examples of a poorly positioned surveillance camera can often be found in stores, where you see a thief confronting a cashier with a cap on, blocking the camera looking from above, so no identification can be made. Positioned cameras deliver the most comprehensive field-of-view possible: mounted on wall, poles or columns. They provide a panoramic 360-degree view and a ground-to-sky 135-degree view.

A missed moment by the pan, tilt, zoom (PTZ) camera

Although quite popular, PTZ surveillance cameras can pose challenges from a forensics perspective. For example, should a sudden incident transpire, the automatic “guard tour” set in the camera installed on a city street with five to ten varying PTZ positions does not conform to the situation. A static multi-sensory or panoramic camera should be considered. This way, the bad actor is always captured in the camera’s view and forensic professionals can determine whether the footage is from a reliable device and the recording has not been manipulated.

Analog cameras providing low-quality images

Successful investigations can increase significantly if old analog cameras are taken out of the picture. The transition from analog to IP cameras has given law enforcement much better video resolutions. The details always matter to police investigators, so full HD should be considered as standard in any new installation. With higher resolution, more detail is provided, which leads to better identification of people and objects. HD or 4K recordings provide investigators with the important visual details and employ the latest AI analytic applications on high-quality video footage.

Low frame rate leads to missed details

Recordings from older cameras may be a problem for law enforcement investigations as most cannot be used due to low frame rate. Today’s network cameras, where frame rates reach as high as 60 frames per second (fps), the problem can still exist if installers and users are trying to save on bandwidth or storage by reducing frame rate. Law personnel must always consider what scene to hone in on. A large public area monitoring system will not require as high identification accuracy when compared to a vehicle license plate identification system or a cash counting process, for instance. Pointing out moving cars on a street or highway can be difficult when a 4K camera is saving detailed video in five fps. For proper identification, the image frequency should never fall below 15 fps and, to identify moving vehicles, the frequency should be at least 25 fps.

Solve for challenging light conditions

Factors such as challenging light conditions can impede an investigation. Technological advancements in the IP cameras being used in this situation will determine success in tackling those darkest and brightest spots. A wide dynamic range (WDR) employs the latest generation of image processing algorithms and ensures the maximum width of dynamic contrast, also suitable for forensics. Note there are some key principles to follow when installing this device. For example, light sources should not be facing the camera and the lighting of the scene should be as even as possible. During the installation process, external lights or time-controlled lighting should not disturb the scene. Objects can be detected only when their brightness is different from their background, so before using the camera, make sure it can handle lighting conditions at different times of the day. With IR illumination, it’s essential to pick a location for lighting based on the distance of the monitored objects and to consider the possibility that the colour spectrum may be affected by temperature.

Incident timing discrepancy

Something police frequently deal with in court hearings is date and time and, more specifically, whether that digital data has been captured accurately. One of the most basic forms of evidence is time and date. Most situations and cases come down to these specific details. There’s no room for any ambiguity (from an overall investigation process and improper camera settings can make matters problematic). For example, some cameras are not set to automatically update during daylight savings time. Even during installation, the calendar data on the camera may not synchronize with the data on the recording device. The good news is there are some modern video management software solutions to help solve these issues by ensuring the date, accuracy and integrity of the recording.

“Video recordings of high forensic quality are essential in making investigative work easier.”

Obstruction of camera and data protection

An investigation can unravel quickly if surveillance systems are poorly maintained or if personnel are working with poorly focused cameras, dirty glass on camera covers or natural elements (like cobwebs) get in the way of performance. Faulty cable connections or a recording unit that has limited data storage can also mean that important evidence remains uncaptured.
Negligence or the intentional removal of evidence creates major issues during investigations. It is critical for records to be protected. With personal data protection always covered in the news, we are starting to see greater responsibility and the obligation for more thorough records and leakage reports, which also translates to improved maintenance for surveillance solutions.

Credit: Axis Communications

Finally, consider something like a wearable, open-platform surveillance device such as body-worn cameras. They are becoming increasingly valuable in law enforcement to capture heated scenarios and are used to complement traditional surveillance. They are robust, lightweight and easy to use. It’s a solution that provides both video and audio and proves helpful in police investigations because wearable solutions have shown they can decrease violent events from occurring.

Keith D’Sa is the country manager for Axis Communications in Canada and is responsible for all business operations in the region, including new business development, marketing, professional services and sales team leadership. D’Sa also manages Axis’ relationship with local distribution and channel partners.

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