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Obsolete cameras a liability

A lack of high quality surveillance systems in public spaces is taking a toll on criminal investigations and the justice system, according to a February report from analyst firm Frost & Sullivan.


February 3, 2009
By Neil Sutton

The report, Maximizing the Value of Video Surveillance as Evidence,
states that citizens are holding retailers and building management
companies to a certain standard of security and protection as a result
of the presence of cameras in their facilities. Unfortunately, these
cameras are often not of a high enough quality to record detailed
images such as facial features.

According to the report, there are repercussions in court with citizens
pointing the finger at businesses for providing inadequate protection,
and criminals escaping prosecution due to video evidence that doesn’t
hold up under scrutiny.

Dilip Sarangan, Frost and Sullivan analyst and author of the report,
says that television shows like “CSI” have raised expectations around
video used in the criminal justice system.

The reality, however, “is that we have a generation of obsolete design
and last-generation surveillance systems. It is a completely analogue
world,” says Sarangan, adding that lack of PTZ functionality in older
models is hampering their effectiveness.

“The current state of video surveillance is a liability (especially to
lawmakers). It makes their job so much more difficult to do without
quality surveillance systems. It’s only a marginal improvement over no
surveillance at all.”

There is also a resistance on the part of some businesses to invest in
newer equipment with better resolution and increased functionality due
the perception that cost of ownership is high due to initial capital
expenditure as well as operating costs such as maintenance contracts
and monitoring services.

Lack of integration with other security systems like access control and
intrusion alarms is also a concern to security users in businesses,
says Sarangan.

But what a lot of users don’t understand, he adds, is that a lot of the
same functions performed by older generation cameras can be achieved
using fewer high definition modern cameras. For example, a handful of
HD cameras could achieve the same security coverage as a dozen analogue
cameras in a parking lot.

“The higher the resolution and the more advanced the system that you
use, the overall system cost has the potential to come down
significantly.”

Sarangan also suggested that users be more judicious about camera
deployment. Within a building like a high school, for example, one
megapixel camera could capture a reasonable level of detail. Outside
the high school, it would make more sense to use a 16 megapixel camera
to record and analyze details that are further away, such as licence
plate numbers.

According to Sarangan, the industry is moving toward high definition
video, aided by the introduction of high definition digital signal
processing technology and improvements in video compression. Users are
also able to leverage their existing investment in analogue while
adding digital by taking advantage of encoders that allow for the
integration of old and new technology on a single network.

“They don’t have to do it today, but they need to start thinking about
moving in that direction. Some of the benefits of these high definition
systems are reduced operating costs, increased use of video for
forensics (and) the higher level of detail for advanced applications
(like licence plate recognition).”

As HD cameras begin to replace analogue in public spaces, police can
expect to receive better quality video that can be submitted as
evidence in criminal investigations, says Sarangan, leading to “more
successful investigations and fewer hours of investigation.”