CCTV is Not a Deterrent

Pswvcw244s_2Similar to most burglar alarms, a closed circuit television (CCTV) system in your home or business can offer tremendous security value, but not in the way people think. Most often, when clients call us to inquire about having cameras installed in either their home or business, they want to do so in order to create an added deterrent to would-be criminals. In my opinion, CCTV systems in most applications, offer little to no deterrent value.

All one has to do is look at the number of cameras in any bank branch and then consider that Vancouver is the bank robbery capital of Canada to realize that most crooks don’t care that they are being filmed.

Although some wear masks, most crooks simply don’t bother and make no attempt to hide their identity. In the case of a bank robbery, when reviewing footage, Police are frequently able to identify the suspect. Often, the particular person is wanted for a dozen other crimes and the difficulty is not so much ID’ing them for a new offense (although that is good) but actually physically tracking them down for arrest.

So, why bother spending any money on a camera system?

A well designed and professionally installed CCTV system can be an invaluable tool in detecting criminal activity… the trick is in how the system is used.

Most CCTV systems simply provide a recording function whereby the Police and Security can review incidents after they have happened and can provide important evidence to support a criminal conviction in court.

Remote Monitoring

When people think of CCTV monitoring, the image in their mind is typically that of a Security Guard sitting in front of dozens of monitors in the faint hope that he or she will just happen to see something happening in real time, and then be able to respond to it. There have been several studies done to show that this practice is as useless as most people would imagine it to be. Scott Henson mentions a couple of high profile American examples of CCTV footage being missed/ignored by full-time ‘watchers’ on his blog.

However, with new technology, it is possible to program a CCTV system so that the cameras can act like a motion detector. Further, the system can be told to only ‘watch’ for motion in a particular area of the image that the camera is providing, and only during certain hours. As an example, several of our retail clients have had us install cameras outside of their storefronts. These cameras provide an image of the doors leading into the store as well as the sidewalk in front of it. We can then program the system to detect any motion within a couple of feet of the front of the store, and to do so only between 1:00am and 5:00am (the prime commercial break-in time-frame). The system itself is simply looking for enough pixels in the image to change colours during the set parameters in order to create an alarm. This alarm is then sent back to our Operations Centre and/or to the client on their PC, PDA or cellphone within a couple of seconds.

Similarly, the same application is used in residential applications where an alarm is generated when someone climbs over a fence or comes too close to the home during a designated timeframe. Incidentally, this service can be turned on or off depending on whether the home is occupied or not (for example, only when you are on vacation). Further, as detailed in yesterday’s post, you can provide your own CCTV monitoring by having the system programmed to alert you, wherever you are.

When we receive such signals, a live video feed is presented to one of our operators who can make a determination as to whether the activity that has caused the alarm appears to be suspicious or not. As a result, we can initiate a response by our own response teams and/or the Police while a potential crook is simply trying to break in… as opposed to waiting for him to actually break through the front door or window. This process eliminates the risk of missing any activity because the CCTV system is doing most of the ‘thinking’ and presents specific footage for our staff to quickly review and assess.

Alternatively, we also often connect CCTV systems to a client’s burglar alarm so that when an alarm that is generated by a glassbreak sensor or other alarm device is received, we also receive a live video feed from the appropriate area. In this case, we are able to immediately verify whether an alarm is real or not and dispatch appropriately.

The trick in these examples is that the CCTV system is being used for a very specific and focused reason… to detect a burglary at its earliest stage. Similar to an alarm signal from a standard burglar alarm, that information is only of value if it is responded to immediately.

Is there any point in just having a CCTV system for recording?

Yes. It is almost always helpful to have quality CCTV footage to aid the Police in an investigation. However, for most home and business owners, we recommend that cameras are the LAST thing that you spend your security budget on. In the overall order of importance, proper locks, strong glass and a properly designed alarm system are all more important. Once you have everything else taken care of, then look into having a CCTV system added.

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