Video surveillance should answer questions not raise them

by John Gallagher | Dec 8, 2015 7:05:50 PM

This past week had an issue that anyone involved in video surveillance should be concerned about: whether video evidence has been tampered with or not.  The specific case involved is in Chicago, where the shooting of Laquan McDonald by police was captured by the police dashcam.  As investigators tried to sort out what happened and went to access video captured by the adjacent Burger King they found that 80 minutes of video was missing; 80 minutes that cover the time that the incident happened.

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The owner of the Burger King provided the police access to the video surveillance system, including logins.  He believes the evidence was tampered with, after he had the system examined by an IT expert who concluded that the video was permanently deleted by someone with “advanced computer skills”.  Chicago police, Cook County prosecutors, and the FBI have reviewed and determined that there was no tampering.  Regardless of who is correct, when video evidence is missing or potentially tampered with how can there not be a clear and objective third-party view on what happened?

That’s where Viakoo comes in.  IP-based video surveillance has multiple systems that interact together to make it work.  The router doesn’t know about issues in storage; the VMS doesn’t know the POE switch is overloaded, and so on.  Taking a workflow-level view of the system in its entirety is the only way to find and sort through issues that go across multiple devices and software systems.  That is at the heart of when people talk about Service Assurance. As shown below, in the case of the Burger King in Chicago seeing when the files were deleted would be a few clicks away and from a neutral third-party, and would have the ability to look across all the specific systems and devices at the same point in time.

viakoo deleted video

This case highlights a much broader issue, how is it that video simply goes missing?  In a recent survey Viakoo found that 37% of video surveillance professionals report having missing video issues.  For IP-based systems, where failures rates are typically 1% or less, the idea of a 37% failure rate is mind-boggling.  Perhaps it is tied to the issue our survey found to be the biggest: cameras going offline without anyone knowing.  The Viakoo PennyAlert solution (for a penny per day) would tell you immediately if a video stream went offline (as well as where in the system the problem occurred).

Clearly there is a missing piece to this puzzle.  No one wants missing video evidence, or to see their multi-million dollar security investments being questioned on the evening news.  Highly affordable solutions exist, that are proven at scale to prevent these issues.  Yet there continue to be stories where people die because video surveillance failed (Lynne Spalding at SF General Hospital), where perpetrators can’t be found because only 25% of camera on their escape route were working (Bangkok temple bombing this year), or where the integrity of law enforcement is questioned because 80 crucial minutes of video is missing from Burger King.  My guess is that the missing piece is either some form of “not invented here syndrome”, or desire to maintain status quo regardless of how times have changed.  In today’s age of video evidence being central to how security functions, both approaches must give way to automation and certainty.

In closing, a quick question to those reading who own the risk of video surveillance failing.  Do you know from real data (not hearsay or guesswork) how your video surveillance system is working?  If you’re in the majority, the answer is no.  That alone is a key issue the physical security industry needs to address and fast.

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