Adding Force Multipliers
Advances in video surveillance technology delivers additional help for cops
- By Kevin Taylor
- Jun 01, 2022
There are more than 600,000 state and local law enforcement officers in the United States. Impressive, but with a U.S. population of more than 330 million–and growing–they have their work cut out for them. A good percentage of the roughly 18,000 police departments in the country face increasing crime with the same or a reduced budget.
The good news, however, is that many are discovering how advances in video surveillance technology can be an affordable force multiplier that delivers effective results and safer cities.
There are several advances in video surveillance that can directly benefit law enforcement. Body-worn video surveillance cameras have emerged in the last decade, but a recent study showed that only 47 percent of general-purpose law enforcement agencies use them (although for large police departments, that figure rises to 80 percent). According to the same study, agencies not using body-worn cameras stated cost–like hardware acquisition or video storage–as the reason.
Body-worn cameras are not only becoming more affordable, they are also more powerful and effective. Imaging and audio capture technologies have improved over earlier released offerings. There are models that are lightweight, robust, easy to use and can be turned on at the touch of a button with a buffer to include a certain amount of time prior to being turned on. Long battery life, field charging and fast offloading make them ready to go at a moment’s notice.
The benefit of body-worn cameras is that they tell the story from the perspective of the device wearer. But they also provide context for both sides of every interaction. With intelligible audio accompanying the captured video, body worn cameras tell the most comprehensive and accurate story possible.
In addition to providing better oversight and transparency, body worn cameras also have the potential to diffuse interactions. Some studies show that when officers wear body worn cameras, the conduct from both parties tends to improve.
Increased attention on police interactions might make body worn cameras an essential, rather than just a supplemental, tool.
Artificial Intelligence, Analytics and Better Information
Artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics can help police departments with limited resources.
Video analytics help by creating searchable, actionable, and quantifiable intelligence from live or recorded video. Analytics enabled with AI can intelligently and accurately classify objects within a camera’s field of view–people, loiterers, crowds, cars and travel direction. These new data insights can help in real-time during emergency responses to create a safer environment both for the responder and for civilians in or near an area to which services have been dispatched.
The labeled data can also assist investigators who have traditionally been tasked with the arduous responsibility of combing through hours upon hours of surveillance footage looking–for example–the blue car or for the person in the green shirt.
For departments concerned that deploying analytics means they must invest in more servers or storage, the emergence of edge processing is likely to make AI based analytic technologies more affordable and more scalable. Some surveillance cameras now include Deep Learning (DL) AI processing resources built directly into the edge device. Additionally, some VMS platforms are beginning to include features to leverage metadata from cameras in a more intuitive way, as well as deeper integrations to more traditional server-based analytic offerings.
An advantage of using edge computing in the camera is that the analyzation process sits as close to the source as possible. Edge analytics tend to have greater accuracy because the analysis is performed on the raw video data prior to processing for a compression for codecs such as H.265.
Furthermore, leveraging edge processing as a foundation for video analytics positively impacts the overall solution architecture by reducing latency, reducing points of potential failure, improving scalability, lowering total cost of ownership, and, in use cases that require connecting the device via an LTE router or gateway, significantly reduced data plan costs.
Pool Resources to Benefit All Departments
In today’s challenging economic and pandemic-impacted landscape, we often hear that cities and law enforcement agencies simply “don’t have money.” This is only a half-truth.
There is money to fund prioritized projects in local government. The real challenge is that there are a lot of competing priorities seeking access to these funds. This is another area where advancements specifically related to DL/AI as it pertains to video technology can help law enforcement agencies act on their mission.
There are many other stakeholders and departments within local government that are seeking to use cameras, machine vision and analytics to improve the efficiency and safety of their services: parks and recreation, public works, traffic, parking and even the offices of sustainability and resilience.
A city’s parking agency may seek to improve services by monitoring parking spots, conveying availability, and even catching scofflaws parking illegally. If they use video technology as a force multiplier to achieve these goals–and if there is a spirit of collaboration between law enforcement and parking services (and more broadly across all departments making up the municipal government)–then the initiative of parking services could provide police access to more video assets to benefit their public safety and emergency response initiatives.
Because the latest video technologies can potentially deliver data insights that are beneficial to multiple use cases and multiple stakeholders, it makes sense that deployment of video technologies are not looked at as a “solutions” initiative with one department carrying the burden of cost, but rather that video technologies are considered an expansion of infrastructure where the deployment and resulting assets serve a broader purpose of helping the community operate. For this to be realized, it will be important that video technologies are supported by appropriate policy and governance, and that included in this is a hierarchy of user rights of access.
For example, traffic management should be the user of priority during a vehicular accident scenario and law enforcement should be the user of priority during a civil unrest event–but what about when a civil unrest event caused a traffic accident resulting in congested corridors? If the closest video asset is a PTZ camera, both agencies will want control of the camera for their agency’s mission. These user access prioritization collisions cannot be resolved when the collision occurs, they must be forecasted, predicted and planned for in advance.
Video and its related metadata that is sent to a real-time law enforcement crime center can be sent to a variety of departments like these to help them analyze and improve operations.
Building Smart Communities: Project Green Light Detroit
Law enforcement can also partner with businesses directly to use advanced video technology to deliver a smarter–and safer–community.
In 2016, 911 call data indicated there was a preponderance of crime in a concentrated area of Detroit. The Detroit Police Department (DPD) and community leaders were concerned and established Project Green Light Detroit (PGLD) to improve safety and response time. Businesses in this area–primarily gas stations, liquor stores, and quick service restaurants–installed Axis Communications cameras that provided video access directly to DPD.
The partnership includes video management from Genetec as well as internet from local service providers. Now, when there is a crime, a participating business operator can simply hit a panic button, which immediately pushes video to DPD. If a 911 call is placed within a certain geofenced area, video from that location is sent directly to law enforcement.
The independent businesses own the cameras and the related data, which is archived in a cloud repository. Businesses that enroll into PGLD sign a memorandum of understanding that grants access to the video streams from their cameras to the city under these specific conditions. This protects privacy and saves time for law enforcement.
It saves time because, with a standing MOU in place, law enforcement doesn’t have to wait for access to video during an event. They are immediately involved. They also have video access for the subsequent investigation. PGLD has been credited with improving safety in the Detroit community as measured across multiple metrics. Since inception, PGLD has added hundreds of local businesses, the city of Detroit, and community organizations to the program.
Advanced technology in devices like body-worn cameras or in video analytics can dramatically improve law enforcement operations. These solutions can seem cost prohibitive, but by working with other internal departments–or even across communities–law enforcement can share the expense. The result is a force multiplier that delivers a smarter and safer community.
This article originally appeared in the May / June 2022 issue of Security Today.