Most of us have invested in a CCTV system at some point in our career. The technology has become a standard and almost unquestioned tool in the bag of tricks. I wonder how many of us have actually stopped to think about what we hoped to accomplish with it before we purchased the system. I say this because the way most people seem to use CCTV today does not make a lot of sense.
The market researchers tell me that every year we install more than 4 million new cameras in the United States. Of those, less than 5 percent actually get watched in real time by a human. The rest get sent to a DVR to be dutifully stored, and in most cases the video is never watched. If you were to ask the average store owner or plant manager why they invested in CCTV, what would be the answer? In general, there are two thought processes going on; the most popular is “deterrence,” with “investigation” being a close second. Yet, when we look at the numbers, deterrence is a hard case to make.
The Campbell Collaboration, an international research organization, released a report in December of 2008 that studied the effect of CCTV on crime reduction. They surveyed 44 sites, largely in the U.K., looking at the before and after effects of CCTV installation. The 73-page report is daunting, but when you net it out, only the parking garage installations and mass transit show a significant reduction in crime. The other sites, such as city centers and public housing, show almost no significant impact. In this case, what the parking garages and mass transit seem to have in common is rapid response to an event and near 100-percent camera coverage. Both had dedicated guards to respond and large numbers of cameras.
When you think about it, that makes a lot of sense. If the bad guys know that they can do whatever they want, and it will either go unnoticed in a camera blind spot, unwatched in a bank of monitors or unresolved with a delayed response, then CCTV is no deterrent at all.
“Many sites have reached a point where they simply cannot afford to monitor their video and yet they are discovering that recorded video is not a deterrent” says Doug Marmon, CTO and vice president of products for VideoIQ.
But what about the recorded video, you say? Isn’t a permanent record of the perp’s face a deterrent? Most certainly — if the camera was pointed in the right direction to record it; the quality of the video was high enough to recognize the face; and if the perp did not just disappear into the night, never to be found again.
So, if your intent is to investigate and deter a known retail employee of taking money out of the till, recorded video using CIF quality may be a viable approach. If, on the other hand, the goal is to lower parking lot crime outside your big box store, we will need to do better than just hitting the record button on the old VCR.
The problem, of course, is that quality, coverage and speedy response cost money. And in today’s economy, we have everyone going “down market” — buying cheaper systems and reducing the staffing to monitor and respond. The risk is by moving to lower quality video and paying less attention to monitoring it, we violate the original reason we went to CCTV in the first place. There is no ROI on a system without measurable benefits.
A Fork in the Road
When you think about it, video in this industry is at an interesting point. Night watchmen transitioned into alarm systems when the industry figured out a way to make the systems reasonably reliable. Industry growth happened when the digital dialer enabled us to monitor the systems remotely at an affordable cost. We had found a way to take the expensive roving guard out of the building, and share him among many different buildings. Unfortunately, alarm systems only work well when an area can be locked down. Video can be an effective solution outdoors, inside an occupied building or other cases where guards are deployed today; but to move to a lower cost point, it must undergo the same transition. It must be provided as a service, be event-driven and be reliable.