Piecing the puzzle together using surveillance technology

Andrea Sorri

Could you pull off the perfect crime? If so, how would you do it and where would you start? If the movies are any indication, it must involve a long planning and research phase where every risk is calculated and effectively neutralized. A specialist team of experts collaborate and mull over how the plan should be executed. Preparations for every eventuality are put in place, with a clear plan B or even C. The unexpected becomes expected and there are no surprises. Following the crime, evading the authorities will be critical – remaining undetected until you’re a safe distance away and covering your tracks to prevent pursuit.

In the real world, it is critical for the criminals to be brought to justice as every escape undermines the integrity and public perception of the law enforcement department. Fortunately, even the ‘perfect’ plan has flaws; some small error to give the authorities clues on identities, locations and future plans. Technology helps city officials to gain insight into incidents, gathering visual, auditory and digital evidence to bring perpetrators to justice. Network surveillance in smart cities can uncover clues and perspectives that are not immediately obvious to witnesses on the scene.

Staying one step ahead

Crimes can be committed at any time and it’s critical for the right technology to be in place before an incident occurs. Criminals are broadly aware of the measures law enforcement take to deter and prevent crime, as well as record the incident. However, the strategy of piecing this evidence together behind the scenes is where the authorities can have the upper hand. This process may require input from a number of sources, especially when dealing with elaborate crimes. Outside of the city authorities, cooperation between private and public organizations can help to build a picture of the crime within and between cities or even countries.

Collaboration in action

This is the part of the plot which is usually the most gripping. The investigators gather evidence and testimonials from multiple sources to build their case and confront the perpetrators in the final act. The real world may be less dramatic, but there are many examples of how a similar approach is used to achieve tangible results.  For example, the city of Detroit faced rising levels of violent crime and city officials decided that enough was enough. A new approach was needed. After analysing incident data, they found that nearly a quarter of the city’s violent crimes happened within 500 feet of a gas station after 10pm. This insight led them to create Project Greenlight, a partnership between gas stations and the Detroit Police Department. This gave law enforcement officials immediate access to footage from the scene if an incident occurred. As a result, there was a 50 percent decrease in violent crime in the city.

Across the pond in London, in 2016 a Mayfair jewellers was robbed of £4.2million worth of diamonds in a heist which saw a fake gemologist swap the gems for pebbles. The criminals were able to escape to Paris before the alarm was raised. They almost got away with it, but London’s Flying Squad detectives launched an investigation and made extensive use of surveillance camera footage. This enabled them to retrace the group’s movements across London and piece the story together. Ultimately, two members of the team were brought to justice 4 years later, using surveillance technology to help build the case.

What about data siloes?

Neither of the above examples would have been possible without a fundamentally collaborative approach. Data siloes are bound to exist in cities and breaking these down using cooperation is essential to building a complete picture during the investigation of an incident. This requires two things: the right mind-set and the right resources. Visual and auditory data gathered from different sources must be reconciled and considered alongside factors such as motive, outcome and timeline. For example, if an incident occurred at a business within one area of a city, and the perpetrators fled the scene in a vehicle to another area of the city, surveillance footage from the business and along the route would add value. License plate recognition (LPR) technology embedded within street cameras could be used to identify the individuals involved, track the vehicle and establish the final destination.

Stranger than fiction

Just like the movies, real-life criminals dedicate time and resources to maximizing their chances of achieving the greatest gain. The higher the stakes, the bigger the payoff. This incentivizes them to apply creativity to committing – and getting away with – the perfect crime. It’s up to law enforcement to implement a creative and collaborative approach to understanding and fighting crime. By working together and using every tool within their arsenal, they can ensure a better outcome and bring more criminals to justice.

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Law enforcement