Video Surveillance In Tactical Planning

Wadi Sawabini

On a hillside in New England, two narcotics investigators armed with a video camcorder and a 500mm lens are watching a farmhouse on the other side of the valley. From their observation point in the tree line, they are able to get license plates and legally identifiable video of all who visit the farmhouse. The video provides raw intelligence as well as insight into how the drugs are moved and stored. While watching the video, raid planners learn critical details about which doors open out and that there are children present in the farmhouse.

A covert entry team in Europe is wiring a location for sound and video. While they work, the security officer is watching all the approaches using four tiny Wi-Fi enabled camcorders. They are capturing more than 4,000 lines of resolution (4k) and sending their signals to a handheld tablet. These camcorders, hidden inside fast food cartons near a trash barrel and in other easy to make “hides,” can pick up the slightest movement and warn the team in time to take evasive action. Once the entry is complete, the camcorders can be retrieved and used again elsewhere.

In North America, Mobile Surveillance Teams (MSTs), sometimes referred to as “Spin Teams,” are shooting video of suspects as they conduct their criminal enterprises and meet other criminals. The teams spend their entire shift in the field. At the end of the day, video of targets is emailed to case officers and intelligence analysts.

A successful tactical mission involves many intertwined elements: target identification, planning, team selection, scheduling, support manpower, transportation, supplies, operator rehearsals and, of course, intelligence. None of these can be overlooked if the mission is to be successful. But time and again planners forget to include video surveillance in their tactical plan. Perhaps that is because they are unaware of the technological advancements of the past two years.

4k mini video cameras and High Definition handheld camcorders are changing the way surveillance is shot. Gone are the grainy videos of the VHS era. (VHS, by the way, was 250 lines of resolution; 4k mini video has 16 times more resolution.) None of the equipment mentioned above is classified. Nor is it expensive. It can be delivered to your agency overnight. In the U.S. and in some Canadian Provinces, the equipment can be borrowed from a Regional Intelligence Sharing System (RISS) Agency at no cost to the LEA.

Why then doesn’t every tactical team use video? I have heard all the excuses: “It is too complicated, the camcorders are too big, the camcorders cost too much, the camcorder has too many buttons, we don’t have anyone who knows how to use the equipment. Our people already have digital SLRs.”

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