The security week that was: 1/16/09

Do public cameras work?

If you're in the security industry, I think you're predisposed, like I am, to believe that security cameras have a deterring effect on crime. We're all probably right at some level, but a new study looks at the San Francisco city surveillance project, and what the study found was a municipal surveillance system that wasn’t altogether effective. Among the findings: “We find no evidence of impact of the cameras on violent crime.” So San Franciscans are just as likely to be mugged under a crime camera as they are in a dark alley?

One of the things that you have to remember about the San Fran system is that this is a town that has long been associated with individualism, personal rights and privacy. Unlike some public surveillance projects which send the video to police substations for real-time monitoring, the San Francisco system isn’t monitored live. Rather, the system is only for evidentiary review after an incident is reported.

The system also is faced with poor image quality, the report states, but that’s almost to be expected, given the environmental challenges of city surveillance. That was also linked to budgets – the data was being compressed significantly, and the study staid the imaging would be better if the city bought more data storage and could thereby lessen the compression effects or increase frame rate. Apparently, the city bought high-res cameras that could shoot up to 12 frames per second, but the frame rate on the city’s system is generally only at 3 or 4 frames per second and sometimes even lower.

The biggest challenges, overall, seemed to be that the system was integrated well into police functions (like the live monitoring) and that more training for staff was needed on how to access and use the footage.

Even though the system apparently was fairly ineffective, it would seem that it’s hampered by not having good monitoring and not having good images. Let’s be honest, if Joe Criminal sees a surveillance camera where he’s going to commit a crime, but it’s dark, and he knows that 1) the camera isn’t be monitored and that 2) the images are too poor to use for identification, would you really expect it to be a deterrent for him?

Safety never takes a holiday
Mall cop movie kicks off today

It’s the first security movie of 2009, and you’ve all undoubtedly seen the previews. Paul Blart Mall Cop is the story of a man who, repeatedly failing to make the state police roster, is the security guard trapped inside a mall as a team of highly trained robbers strike. He’s a take-charge-of-the-donuts kind of guy stuck inside today’s world of "observe and report" security mandates, and…well…you have to watch the move to find out if he becomes target practice or a mall cop hero. The movie opens today in theaters nationwide, but fortunately, our friend and columnist Liz Martinez, author of The Retail Manager’s Guide to Loss Prevention sat down for a pre-screening. The movie, she said, was better than she expected, and raises some of the core questions about mall security and interactions with retail security. Check out her review of "Paul Blart Mall Cop."

Switching from the government into private sector security
New book shares author’s experiences going from DEA to Fortune 500-level corporate security

In our SIW forums, we get a lot of questions from police officers and federal agents and even military veterans who want to make a transition into corporate security. Finally, someone has written a book to answer those questions. The Security Executive Council just announced the book From One Winning Career to the Next: Transitioning Public Sector Leadership and Security Expertise to the Business Bottom Line today, and I don’t have a copy on my shelf yet, but according to the council, the book hits on the topics that we normally hear asked as people prepare to make that transition. The book draws on the experiences of author David Quilter’s move from the public sector (DEA) into the private sector (Fortune 500 corporate security) after a lengthy career. At first glance (and without a review), this sounds like great nighttime reading for government security professionals nearing retirement.

Why surveillance can pay for itself
How a grocer beat a trip-and-fall scam artist at his own game.

I was reading The News of the Weird this week; this is the column by Chuck Shepherd which collects the oddball security stories from around the world. My favorite section is usually “Least competent criminals”, and this week was a good one. Shepherd wrote about a man who faked a trip-and-fall at a Farm Fresh Market grocery store, only to find out that the grocer’s surveillance cameras had captured him disturbing the rug at the store’s entrance. Undoubtedly, the surveillance system saved Farm Fresh Market thousands of dollars of litigation costs and a potential insurance payout. Shepherd also has a tremendously humorous story about a bank robber who robbed a bank before the money was delivered. You can read his full report for the week of Jan. 11 to get more details on these stories.

In other news:
BSIA access control guide, Inauguration security, Super Bowl security

If you’re looking for a simple overview of office access control that you can read in less than 5 minutes, then look across the pond to the British Security Industry Association (BSIA). The organization has released its “Guide to Access Control for Offices.” While the document clearly promotes high-tech solutions (the BSIA membership is generally comprised of technology product vendors, so it's no surprise that the docuement would tout ANPR more than basic key locks), it does put together a nice summary of the components involved in an electronic access control system.

High-tech inauguration security is well under way in Washington, D.C., for what is expected to be the highest-attended inauguration in our nation’s history. … Meanwhile, a report from Tampa indicates that U.S. intelligence has not discovered any "credible threat of terrorist attacks" for the 2009 Super Bowl.

Finally, we close with a look at our most read stories of the week: