Navigating the influx of security data

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

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 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.

LET: You talk about the swiftness with which people saw suspicious activity in Boston, and were able to use video to make an arrest. What else did you take away from the event?

Hood: In Boston, they were able to identify who the suspects were and get that information out to the media because it was a global event. In Maryland we had those pictures up along the main interstates within hours after they were released. So now, your perimeter has extended to several states. [The suspects’] pictures were up across the U.S. on electric billboards. We wouldn’t have been able to do that without video, or without the electronics we have today.
Because of technology’s complexities, jurisdictional boundaries are ceasing to exist. Originally when I started as a police officer I’d see a picture, make a photo lineup of six pictures, and then have someone identify who that person was. And then I’d have to go down and print that information and put it on flyers trying to identify a missing child or a suspect. Now within seconds we can take [the image] right off the video, connect it to who the victim was, and send it out to every car and every person in that perimeter, within minutes.

Think about that. That’s also increasing the trust between the community and law enforcement, because we’re more proficient about how we’re doing it. And there’s no confusion about who we’re actually looking for.

LET: You’re improving the transparency between community and law enforcement.

Hood: Absolutely. The transparency, I think is ideal. That’s the best way to say it. Look at the [successful end] to the Boston bombing—individuals are taking video all the time, and now they need repository of where to send that back. You know that data contains the XY coordinates of where the picture was taken, so you can start putting out a map of where this picture was taken and at what time. Now you have a timeline in which to reconstruct that environment; you know exactly where to look for those surrounding pictures, and at what time and on what day.

That helps you tremendously when you’re putting a scene back together.
As for transparency, it was a community member—a citizen—who took the picture. That’s the way the public/private partnership is really developing.

I really thought transparency was key in Boston, along with interoperability. From Federal down to local they were making sure there was one message, and that they were organized and verifying information before they put it out. They did a good job of explaining through the media what was actually transpiring, because they were doing a door-by-door search. To do a search like that in that large of an area is very labor-intensive. So it was good they explained to the community where they were and what they were doing.

LET: To what extent do you think social media assisted in that?

Hood: Social media was huge; video right now is your foremost communication. Before it was radio. Now with video you’re seeing real-time situational awareness; you have real-time information. And with the mobility of social media or Twitter, you [can] confirm your information coming in.

You’re reducing what you have to do, but you now have a standard of proficiency that you never had before because you have an executive looking at it through the eyes of their subordinate, and they can actually identify what someone’s doing. It’s safer for the public, it’s safer for the first responder, and it’s more proficient.

You know as well as I do, it used to be whatever officer first got there, or first responder (just like a reporter), the product you’re going to get depends on their level of expertise. With video you can actually have a level of proficiency that was never there before.

LET: How does that change the job of the officer on patrol, all the information that comes easily, quickly and directly to his or her mobile device? Does it make operations more streamlined or increase the workload?

Hood: I think there’s a little give and take. First of all, yes, you have to verify your information. You’re more responsible because you’re getting more information in. You have to be able to multitask and understand what you’re actually looking at, and verify what it is. Just because someone takes a picture doesn’t mean that’s [who you’re looking for]. You can get into a lot of trouble if you don’t verify your information.

LET: Anything else?

Hood: The key is the interoperability—the governance we need to know and our public/private partnerships. Because they’re stakeholders they’re invested in it, and they want to know that their government’s giving them that level of service. Today in Baltimore City you can have an accident., and before you can even ask for help if you’re incapacitated, if we’ve caught it on video, help is already on the way.

That’s the level of service we want. That’s the kind of service I want. And we’re closing in on the state, not just the city because we’re the hub, but we realize what happens immediately in our surrounding area also affects us.