Should Your Agency Build an Advanced Surveillance System?

It seems that every department in the nation is fortunate enough to have an officer that, behind all the knuckle dragging toughness, is truly a geek at heart. You know who I am talking about, the officer that loves to play with all the new “toys”. They usually have the latest super-smart-phone and can often be seen with miscellaneous circuit boards sitting on their desk. You may even be that officer. It’s hard to fault them, because really all they want is to use the resources available to be the best officer, detective, or administrator that they can be. Chances are they are probably very good at what they do and have the ability, training, and knowledge to do a lot of good things for the department.

As your agency starts to look into equipment needs, these officers not only have a lot of desire to be involved, but their opinion counts. When they speak of the latest this or that, we generally listen. It's important to have this element in your agency. But if you don’t, I suggest you look for him or her during the next hiring process. Over the years police agencies have been turning to that officer to build surveillance systems in an effort to save some money. However, there are a lot of reasons to closely consider the real costs of such an endeavor. I’m not going to sugar coat it, but it’s important that several things are considered before you pull the trigger on purchasing the components for a camera system rather than buying one outright.

Cost

The number one reason agencies choose a "Do-It-Yourself" surveillance system is simply the bottom line. After all, if you have an officer that can build a camera system, why not save a few bucks? Isn’t it just an IP camera and a Router? I wish it were that simple...

Covert Law Enforcement uses over 100 different components in order to build solid and reliable systems. A good reliable surveillance system has multiple (equally important) components such as the following:

1. Camera. Like any piece of electronic equipment, these systems can have bugs. They react differently under different circumstances and enviroments. There are thousands of camera models and brands out there with different features and capabilities. They use different software platforms and they interact differently with other components. We use state of the art cameras and with that come a modest cost. Yes, you can get a reasonable IP camera for under $1500, but you have to take into account how that camera will load over the cellular network and how it will be to use on an app or internet browser. 18X zoom is great, but how much more versatility could you get if you had 36X or even 40X capabilities? When you start talking about low light investigations, it is extremely difficult to find a camera that will be helpful for your criminal investigations. We spend over $2,500 on the camera component alone. Some of our cameras offer a lux rating of .008, the lowest in the industry. But to get that we had to put in an electrical system that would work with a camera that operates on 54 volts… not the standard 12 volt you get with most of these systems.

2. Power supply. Speaking of 54 volts…  A versatile system should have multiple voltage inputs with multiple options for getting that power to the camera. It also needs protection for the equipment like breakers and fuses with the appropriate amperage and voltage regulators. If this part of the system is not configured appropriately, one little power bump can make your entire system useless and you can void a $4000 piece of equipment by frying it. Those concerns are magnified 10 fold when you start dealing with a self-sustained system, like a battery operated or solar extended system. Finding the right charger for the batteries and the appropriate solar controller is not as simple as looking it up on Amazon.com.

3. Enclosure and Environmental Controls. So how hard can it be to find an enclosure? There are thousands of different resources out there for this and the chances are you can probably find one relatively easy. When you start to take into account the covert nature of the system and the various environments that they are used in, your options start to dwindle. We haven't even mentioned weather, heat, cold, and how that affects the power supply.

Some might ask, how does the fan affect the battery life and where is the fan located in relation to the camera? or perhaps don’t want to bother with a fan? I suppose you could risk it, but what happens when the temperatures reach 95 degrees outside? Inside your vehicle they can be as high as 180 degrees, the same goes for your equipment enclosure. Most equipment will fail once it reaches 150 degrees and you either won’t have a usable system when it gets that hot, or it may damage the entire system all together.

4. Covert Operations. The functionality of the enclosure is just one aspect. You will need it to blend into the environment. Covert Law Enforcement has custom built and manufactured enclosures that are designed for environmental controls including alerts and logs on temperatures, and power supply configurations. We have been in business since 2010, and we are past generation 4 with a majority of our systems.

5. Router. So you want to be able to view your system from your desk and phone right? The options for this are also many, but there is a good chance you have been told by an agency that has already done this to just get a cradlepoint router. However, there are features and settings on these routers that can create problems and can be difficult to correct if you don’t have experience with them. Years of experience and improvements to our systems have allowed us to configure the routers we use to function very well for this type of application.

6. Fail Safes. Like any piece of electronic equipment, they sometimes fail. The trick is to limit that and make it easy to fix if it does. Covert Law Enforcement has researched and developed ways to remotely address these issues in multiple different ways. We don’t just reset the cameras with a software reset, we have components that allow us to physically turn the power off to the system (back to the electrical again). We have failsafes in place to keep the equipment running daily. If issues arise we can reset the system using SMS text or a data connection, as well as a timed reset. On those rare occasions where the agents have to go to the scene, we provide a key fob (again, part of the electrical system) that allows them to reset the device without having to open the system up, or blow their cover.

7. Image Recording Platform. What good is all this work if you can’t view what has happened on your investigation while you were trying to spend time with your family? We work hard with agencies to integrate our systems into existing infrastructure that they already have. If you don’t have existing recording platform we can work with you to get you one and even our cameras have a built in recording. If you don’t have cell coverage in the area you are deploying your camera, no problem, we have a redundant system that is capable of recording the images at 30 frames per second.

8. Trouble shooting logs. Our systems keep a log of each component in the system, such as temperature, power, battery, users loging in, etc. This is helpful for troubleshooting in the event that you run into problems. If your agency builds a camera who are they going to call when it’s not working? You? The agent that built it and was just transferred back to patrol?

So, back to the bottom line, you can put together a camera, router, and an enclosure with the exact same components that we offer and you can do it for a little less. You need to evaluate if it’s worth your time, or that officers time, to do all the research and development that we have done with the camera systems we have throughout the United States. Is it worth the financial risk, stress, and investigative time to build your system? Are you really providing a valuable police service to your jurisdiction? Or is it financially worth it to pay a little more to let us do what we do best, so you can do what you do best?

Time

A review of the costs of building a surveillance system also points out the vast amount of time that can be put into building your own system. Figuring out the electrical system alone can be daunting, and configuring it for temperature controls, high-voltage cameras, low-voltage routers, and troubleshooting all the software “bugs” makes for a big time investment. Time researching the router and camera configuration alone will put the officers case load behind, not to mention the electrical system and the enclosure along with the other small components forgotten. As well a hundred other little things I didn’t mention. Look at how much time you took just reading about the disadvantages to building your own surveillance system.

Covert Law Enforcement has camera systems in some of the coldest, hottest, and most humid areas of the United States. We have 1000’s of hours and tens of 1000’s of dollars in research and development, 1000’s of hours of actual law enforcement investigative experience, and 1000’s of hours of surveillance deployments. We manufacture law enforcement cameras, and (don’t mind if I do…) we do it very well. We understand law enforcement, and we are available 24/7/365 on a personal level as well as a professional one. We work hard to provide a service, not just a product. We train new officers on the system as they rotate into the investigative unit, and we help set up cameras while officers are in the field and need assistance.