VIDEO SURVEILLANCE - Usage is multiplying worldwide Cameras gather evidence, help catch criminals

A robber grabbed a convenience store's video surveillance tape and cut it to pieces. An FBI laboratory in Kansas City last year put it back together. A Kansas burglar's face didn't give him away on video, but the tattoos on his neck and arms did. The FBI lab froze the frames, photographed the tattoos and identified the man. As more surveillance cameras appear worldwide, police use them more and more to mine evidence and catch criminals. Even more and better cameras are on the way, and so are more technicians called video forensic experts. Kansas City police want to spend $4 million to upgrade their patrol car cameras to higher-quality digital equipment. Police in both Kansas Citys hope to install cameras in high-crime neighborhoods. And some officers on both forces are being trained in forensic video.

VIDEO SURVEILLANCE - Usage is multiplying worldwide
Cameras gather evidence, help catch criminals


Jan. 28, 2007
By JOE LAMBE
The Kansas City Star

VIDEO

A robber grabbed a convenience store's video surveillance tape and cut it to pieces. An FBI laboratory in Kansas City last year put it back together.

A Kansas burglar's face didn't give him away on video, but the tattoos on his neck and arms did. The FBI lab froze the frames, photographed the tattoos and identified the man.

As more surveillance cameras appear worldwide, police use them more and more to mine evidence and catch criminals. Even more and better cameras are on the way, and so are more technicians called video forensic experts.

Kansas City police want to spend $4 million to upgrade their patrol car cameras to higher-quality digital equipment. Police in both Kansas Citys hope to install cameras in high-crime neighborhoods. And some officers on both forces are being trained in forensic video.

Use of surveillance video in Kansas City homicide investigations has doubled in the last five years, detectives said.

"Every time we're at a scene, one of the first things we do is scan the area for video cameras," homicide Detective Steve Morgan said Friday. "It's one of our top priorities. We even look a couple of blocks away, in case a camera caught somebody coming from or going to our crime scene."

Two years ago, the FBI organized a program in the Northland to enhance crime videos and train area police to work with them. Before that, police sent dicey crime video to a central FBI lab in Virginia.

"They were being overwhelmed by these types of cases," said Melissa Hamley, an FBI forensic video expert at the Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory in Kansas City.

Next month, the University of Indianapolis will open the first such large lab in the nation to teach forensic video.

Meanwhile, industry experts say surveillance cameras soon will be as common as smoke detectors. Surveillance video business doubled in the last five years and will jump from $9.2 billion in 2005 to $21 billion by 2010, experts predict.

The American Civil Liberties Union contends cameras are spreading so fast they have outrun concerns of privacy and policy.

Today, digital cameras posted in public areas can scan 360 degrees and zoom in to read a note in someone's hand. Police routinely check public and private business cameras for evidence in crimes or terrorism cases.

Department of Homeland Security grants pay for cameras in cities and small towns.

Chicago, with hundreds already in high-crime areas, is in the process of installing about 2,000 more. Cincinnati officials plan to spend $6 million for "smart" cameras with sound sensors that zoom in on people who fire guns. A pilot study in East Orange, N.J., credited the technology for an 85 percent drop in gun-related crime.

Other "smart" systems trigger cameras to record far more frames per second of higher-quality video when a robbery alarm goes off.

Among a few recent Jackson County cases with helpful video evidence: