Compared to Europe, and especially Great Britain, the United States is way behind in both the technology and the sheer number of Video Surveillance or ‘security camera’ installations. In England there is roughly one public surveillance camera for every 14 people, while in the USA it is almost 100 times LESS than that. When you consider the comparative crime rates between the countries, ours being much higher, this seems rather strange. I often wonder if the two factors, the crime rate and the number and sophistication of surveillance systems, have a direct correlation, – in other words does the fact that they have more, and more obvious, surveillance cameras keep their crime rate low? I suspect that it does, although there are many other contributing factors such as the criminal apprehension success ratio and the swiftness and certitude of punishment. Additionally, of course, there are the factors of geography and density of population – England will fit into North Carolina twice, and into Florida about 4 times, so they have a lot less cable to run than we do.

What does that have to do with you, and your business? Probably not much, but if the number and visibility of cameras does in fact reduce crime, wouldn’t you want to do everything you can to deter crime in your business? Much controversy exists as to “privacy” issues with surveillance camera usage, although the courts have repeatedly ruled that if public activity can be observed with the human eye (in person), then privacy is not violated if that observation is by camera so long as the camera is readily visible. It is curious that in the US, even in business establishments, we seem to feel the need to hide our surveillance cameras. Are we afraid that we might upset our customers if cameras are visible? Do we think that surveillance cameras detract from the ‘ambiance’ or ‘look’ of our store or business? Or do we think that if the bad guys don’t see that we have cameras, they might be bolder in their approach and less prone to disguising their appearance?

It’s a lot like the philosophy differences between law enforcement hiding behind trees or riding in unmarked cars to catch speeders, and sitting in highly visible (often garish) marked patrol cars on an elevated mound in the median or alongside the highway, as they do in Europe. Both have the intent of reducing speed and making the highways safer (I think), but one is focused on catching and punishing perpetrators and the other is focused on deterring them from speeding in the first place. Personally, I’m a firm believer in the deterrent approach. If crime is an unavoidable fact of life, I want the bad guys choosing somebody else’s store to rob or pilfer from and not mine. Therefore, in a business environment I want my cameras highly visible, and if possible I want a big color monitor where all my patrons can see that I have the entire facility under surveillance, including them, and that the pictures are sharp, in color, and with a close enough view to make identification undeniable. I also probably want a few “covert” cameras, placed where not even my employees know they are, and which do not show up on the public, or even the back-office, monitor. Inventory “shrinkage” is often more costly than overt crime, and unfortunately your employees are frequently the cause.

There are more types of cameras, and more types and sizes of lenses, than you can “shake a stick at” (as my Grandmother used to say). Each one has their specific and unique applicability and application to get the very best picture possible under every circumstance. Why then, do I see that many of my competitors, even those who should know better, installing virtually every project where every camera is the same? What is the current fascination with the “bullet-style” LED-equipped day/night cameras – everywhere? Is it for “looks” (as opposed to views) and symmetry (as opposed to functionality)? It must be, because as we at The Shepherd’s Eyes conduct surveys in our business we have yet to see an installation site where the exact same type and style of camera is appropriate in every location. As a consumer/client, if a video surveillance system vendor tries to tell you that 4, 8, or 16 cameras, each exactly the same, are needed in your business or store, send him away and call someone else because he obviously doesn’t know his business. The nasty little secret is probably that he’s probably bought some “surveillance packages” from a discount house and now needs to get rid of them.

There is also an increasing prevalence of “dome” cameras (as opposed to other styles) today. Even some of my bank customers are insisting we install them. Frankly, I don’t understand why. They are “neater” in appearance than what are called “box” cameras in the industry, and with the smoked polycarbonate dome it is difficult to see where the lens is pointing, so I suspect that the intention is to not make it obvious that a negligent or lazy layout designer has left an area unprotected. The lenses are more easily kept clean, and they are less prone to some overzealous and careless janitor knocking them out of alignment or focus, so I guess this (mistakenly) means you can install them and forget them? – but in my never-to-be-humble opinion the ‘cons’ against their use often far outweigh the ‘pros’. I suspect that in many cases it’s a simply a matter of laziness or lack of expertise again; if the system specifier or the salesman specs dome cameras, all the same, he or she doesn’t need to have the expertise or take the time to do a detailed and thoughtful layout of the building and it’s use.

They don’t need (if they are designing from floor plans) to be able to envision traffic flow, imagine where customers or patrons will stand, which side of a double-door exit most people use, where a hold-up robber will probably be, or where a nighttime break-in will begin and end. They also don’t need to worry about creating a detailed sketch of the facility, showing exact camera type, placement, and field of view for an installer, and then ensuring that the cameras spec’d are placed in the locations intended, – heck, the salesman might even have to visit the site during installation if he specs different types of cameras in different places. This same logic (or lack thereof) applies to any installation where the exact same camera is sold for every location in the facility. The fact is that they are short-changing their customers, and often leaving areas insufficiently or inadequately, or even uncovered. That’s why often, on the evening news, you see fuzzy, distant, unfocused or partial images of a robbery, the wrong cameras or lenses, or insufficient cameras, were installed in the wrong places. There’s no excuse for that.

In summary then,

• If you allow the general public into or on your property, you probably will be best protected by having a professional install a professional video surveillance system. This isn’t just to protect against robbery or burglary or theft, or to provide pictures of the perpetrator(s) to law enforcement, it’s also to provide evidence should a liability claim be made against you. (More about this topic in a future article.)

• Make sure that whoever you get to install the system knows exactly what they are doing and why (and yes, this means you too if you misguidedly decide to do it yourself to ‘save money’). If your system doesn’t provide clear, identifiable (meaning close-up face views) and setting-appropriate images, you may as well not even bother. In the earlier days of financial institution surveillance, the FBI and the FDIC required that customers standing in typical customer service settings the images being recorded from the cameras show a 1″ ‘customer head size’ on a 10″ monitor – that equates to the face shot being 1/10th of the frame vertically and horizontally. That’s still a good rule of thumb to follow. [Please, DON’T ever install “dummy” cameras – they have the potential of costing more in court-sustained liability claims than you can ever imagine. (More about this topic in a future article.)]

• If somebody suggests that the exact same camera will work well in every location, and for every area to be covered in your premises or on your property, ask them why, how, and to show you the views they get before you write the check for the deposit.

• Think about why you’re installing a system, and what you need it to do for you. No video surveillance system alone can be all the protection you need, – it should be part of a complete premise protection approach. (More about this topic in a future article.)

• Consider the applicability and appropriateness of a (big) “public view” monitor. They are not inexpensive, but they can be the most important element of your system depending on your type of business and your premises.

• Consider your hours of operation and your lighting conditions. There’s absolutely no point in installing IR Day/Night cameras (the IRLEDs tend to burn out within 2 years or less, requiring the cameras to be replaced) although they are all the rage nowadays, if your DVR is set to either an open-hours schedule or motion sensitivity and you’re not open 24 hours a day. (More about this topic in a future article.)

And last but certainly not least… Give serious and long consideration to your DVR. It’s not only the heart of your system, but its most expensive element. Nothing has been said in this article about DVRs – that’s the topic of our very next article, appearing shortly.

With your best interest always in mind,

Howard A. Barraclough

for The Shepherd’s Eyes

April 28, 2010

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Compared to Europe, and especially Great Britain, the United States is way behind in both the technology and the sheer number of Video Surveillance or 'security camera' installations. In England there is roughly one public surveillance camera for every 14 people, while in the USA it is almost 100...