Navigating the influx of security data

Baltimore Police Lt. Samuel Hood III discusses how the city leverages technology for public safety


Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of Law Enforcement Technology (LET) magazine. To learn more about how cities across the country are implementing video surveillance networks and other security technology, visit securedcities.com

It takes the right combination of coordination, technology and expertise to safeguard entire cities, particularly in the event of a natural disaster, terror attack or large celebration. Lt. Samuel Hood III works to identify how to best leverage technology with the goal of strengthening security.

Hood is a 17-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department, and current director of law enforcement operations for CitiWatch, the City of Baltimore’s closed circuit surveillance network which consists of 542 cameras. He is responsible for the virtual law enforcement, public safety and crowd control of Baltimore City, which attracts approximately 10 million tourists, convention attendees, vacationers, Grand Prix enthusiasts, sport fans and the downtown work force each year.

We recently chatted with Lt. Hood about reconstructing a crime scene through video, and realizing the goal of better service through public and private cooperation.

LET: Based on your work with CitiWatch, how is video impacting cities and emergency situations today?

Hood: I think CCTV now...is bigger than just video. We see it across all disciplines: video’s tangible; it’s what everybody can put their hands on. But you see the true interoperability where it reduces cost and you have better proficiency for public safety. We’ve seen it even with the Boston bombing where you had [shared video] between public and private entities. Think of the Oklahoma City bombing. It was a couple of weeks, maybe even a month, before they could identify someone from the serial number of the actual Ryder truck that was out front.

In Boston, they had suspects in two days. In four days one of them was dead, and in five days they had both. You couldn’t have done that without video.

LET: It’s interesting you likened Oklahoma City to Baltimore. How much success can you attribute to changing technology and how much to better communication between public and private, agency to agency?

Hood: I’d say the technology would be first and then you’d have the cooperation. Because technology is leading us right now. Before, they had actually gotten the video from a Lord and Taylor department store—a private entity. Chances are it would have been taped over by VHS, and in 24 hours we would have lost it.

LET: Could you address how the monitoring of video has changed, too?

Hood: It’s all about being proactive. Not reactive, but proactive. That has changed immensely with cameras. I’m not saying you’re going to catch everything, but sometimes we’re being more aggressive—we’re watching cameras in real time and identifying where and when we need to be watching.

What happened at the finish line in Boston changed everybody’s stance the same as 9-11 did.

LET: In your opinion, who is the ideal person to monitor live footage?

Hood: You’d have to start with law enforcement, because you have to have someone who’s trained, who sees what’s a criminal act and what’s not...someone who understands what’s the action that indicates someone has an ulterior motive and then someone who does not. Think about it. You and I could be standing there in the same area. What I see and what you see will be totally different, because I’m looking at it in terms of security. If somebody says to you, ‘they’ve bladed themselves against the wall,’ what they’re doing is turning their body away from you so you can’t see it. To me, that’s a characteristic of somebody who’s trying to hide something.

Before, without the technology, we’ve had to identify that in seconds, coming up on a scene after getting a call. And even though we got the call, [we’d have to figure out whether] this person matches the description. Technology’s helping us now because we’re sending a picture of that person in real time before they even get there.

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