CCTV Security Cameras vs. Mobile Phone Cameras

August 1, 2011

Post Mortem vs. Active Crime Interception

One need look no further than London, the city with perhaps the most CCTV (closed circuit television) security cameras in the world, to realize fixed-mount cameras are useful as “rewind” devices, to go back and review how a crime or event happened.  But are these fixed-mount, always-filming, cameras the best model for detecting events before or when they occur?

Fixed-mount security cameras are non-discriminating in what they record; everything within their focus capability is captured.  That is to say, CCTV cameras are pretty un-focused when it comes to isolating the images of an active incident about to happen.

London has more than 10,000 CCTV cameras whirring away 24 hours a day.

In the London subway bombings in 2005, terrorists carried bombs onto trains and buses, detonating them during rush hour.  After the tragic attacks, police reviewed CCTV camera footage and saw the terrorists entering the train station, carrying backpacks loaded with explosives. The terrorists were recorded on several CCTV cameras, but unfortunately they were neither noticed nor intercepted before they were able to carry out the attacks.

CCTV cameras are better at catching criminals after they have committed a crime, rather than being able to stop a crime in progress.  Someone has to be actively watching the video screens for all 10,000 cameras if they are going to try to detect criminal activity before it occurs.  Having a large number of visible CCTV cameras in public areas  might serve as some level of deterrent, knowing you are being filmed, though probably not watched.

Cameras that record large areas of the general public are wide in scope, recording everything and everyone within their reach.  These cameras record everyone equally: the general public going about their daily activities, and criminals who likely shield or blend themselves in to avoid being recorded or detected.  To intercept crimes in process, images and video clips are most useful when the camera is discriminating and focused on activities of interest.

Mobile phone cameras, in the hands of a watchful public, are much more discriminating than CCTV cameras.  When the public takes photos and videos of suspicious activity, incidents can be acted on much faster and at a lower cost than relying on publicly-funded legions of CCTVs mounted on walls and poles.

Smartphone cameras: Discrete and Discriminating.

ELERTS is a free smartphone app that allows citizens who see something suspicious to take a photo and quickly send it to public safety officials.  For example, a public transit rider may notice someone behaving suspiciously.  Many people are fiddling, texting or surfing with their mobile devices.  With ELERTS, a user can discretely snap a photo of the suspicious activity and send it to security officials with a few clicks.  Reports from mobile phone users can be quickly reviewed and acted upon by Public Safety officials.

10,000 watchful citizens with smartphones is better security than one security person watching 10,000 people on CCTV.

As one analyst put it, “If I was a terrorist, I sure wouldn’t want to get onto a train knowing everyone was packing ELERTS.”


Crowdsourced Situational Awareness

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