Intelligent Video Surveillance

By: Rachael Madison

Public video surveillance for commercial and private purposes is not a recent phenomenon. The private sector began using video surveillance in banks in the early 1960s, as mandated by federal law, and later in commercial buildings. By the 1970s, video surveillance was also in use in hospitals, all-night convenience stores, art galleries, and in many other commercial locations. Video technology at the time was limited to passively record events, with little or no means for remote active monitoring. On many occasions, police officials were unable to use remote video cameras images to prosecute criminals because quick movements by the criminals resulted in blurred pictures.

Video technology improved in the 1990s with digital technology. These powerful new advances in video technology extend its range. New digital video cameras have powerful zoom lenses which can tilt and pan to offer a 360-degree coverage. They also are able to gather sharp, clear images in extremely low light. Moreover, new digital video technology requires less labor intensive monitoring. Digital video surveillance cameras can link computer data processing power with sensor or motion detectors to filter out unrelated activities. Such systems can search through a video database of events, allowing the user to isolate only those details in which a particular image occurs. This technology helps police with criminal investigations in order to solve crimes. An executive for a major security firm contends that, "new surveillance cameras document indisputable events with incredibly high resolution."

Many businesses in the United States have invested heavily in the new video surveillance technology to protect products and to promote safe workplace and consumer environments. A recent nationwide survey of a wide variety of companies found that 75 percent utilize video surveillance. Private sector video surveillance technology is operated in a wide variety of industries: restaurants/bars, hotels/motels, retailing, industry/manufacturing, health care, financial/insurance/banking, transportation and distribution, and utilities/communications.

Digital video surveillance is also very common in the American workplace. CCTV surveillance is one of 5 legally approved methods to observe employees. Businesses also rely on digital video surveillance to monitor cash registers and verify time clock compliance, watch employees in training, as well as to help with employee productivity. Employee productivity can be improved in areas like the kitchen or retail sales floor, just by watching what employees do and providing feedback, both positive and negative.

Some research suggests that American workers feel safer in the presence of security camera equipment. Digital video surveillance has proven to be a significant deterrent to criminal activity and provides valuable evidence in criminal lawsuits. Some businesses have used their footage to refute both customer and employee claims that could have been lengthy and costly lawsuits. Safety can be improved as well. With video cameras positioned outside your back door you always know who is on the other side.

Events such as the World Trade Center bombing, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the closure of Pennsylvania Avenue at the White House have raised public concerns about security. This in turn has made the video surveillance industry more acceptable to the general public. A leading security industry spokesperson asserts, "years ago shoppers objected to electronic eyes recording their moves; today it's not only accepted, it's preferred."

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