On-going Trend: City Surveillance Cameras Failing


In Hoboken, New Jersey, failure to provide proper maintenance to city-owned surveillance cameras has led to an unfortunate stall in the investigation of a missing jogger.

NBC New York is reporting that 27-year-old Andrew Jarzyk went missing after going on a late night jog, and surveillance cameras that would have captured him on video near the city’s waterfront have reportedly not been working since 2010.

Juan Melli, a spokesman for Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, confirmed that the cameras were disabled four years ago after a contract expired with the company that designed and maintained the network, Packetalk, claiming that the city had a network of 10 surveillance cameras that were not functional. But Packetalk founder Tamer Zachary says, “I know for a fact it’s not 10; it’s absolutely more.”

Zachary says the contract ran from 2004 to 2009, and estimated that the annual costs for maintenance and upkeep were between $30,000 and $40,000.

“They always paid for the cameras through grants but when it came time to pay their maintenance fees, they decided to stop paying,” Zachary said.

Unfortunately, lack of upkeep and maintenance of surveillance systems is a common trend throughout the country, and safe to say, the world. Surveillance cameras are not just a one-and-done purchase: Those who decided to install a surveillance system need to understand that technologies and softwares are constantly changing, and with that, a surveillance system is only effective when it’s being regularly maintenanced, especially when it comes to a large-scale network. But as we’ve seen time and time again, city governments, businesses and individuals alike don’t want to spend the time or money it takes to properly maintain their surveillance networks. And in the end, we all suffer the consequences of this lack of attention, because suddenly when we need the cameras to function, they don’t!

However what’s most disturbing about the situation in Hoboken is that, according to the article, the city recently won a FEMA Port Security Grant that will pay for eight new surveillance cameras to be installed at the waterfront — but what about the fact that these new cameras will need regular maintenance?! The truth is that the city would rather not spend a dime and get a grant to pay for new cameras, then to spend their own money to fix the ones they already have. In the end, it’s temporary fix to a problem that will no doubt show its face again.

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Boston Buses Now Stream Video To Police


Thanks to a new Homeland Security grant, public buses in Boston are receiving a groundbreaking technological makeover, one of which has never been implemented in any public transportation setting.

According to CBS Boston, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) has been awarded $7 million to outfit city busses with new “360-degree lenses embedded in the ceilings and walls,” with some buses equipped with flat screen TV’s for passengers to see the cameras’ feeds. There will even be cameras on the exterior of the buses, however, none of the cameras will be recording any audio.

Although equipping buses with video cameras is not a new idea, the new system in Boston is revolutionary in its streaming capabilities: All the bus cameras will be live-streaming directly to the downtown dispatch Transit Police headquarters, which will allow police to monitor hundreds of buses in real-time. And that’s not all — 80 transit police cruisers are scheduled to be installed with touch screens for officers to look into any bus of their choosing.

“It is pretty amazing. You pull up the camera system, then you already have a description of the suspect. He could be looking at the cameras as you are following the bus,” MBTA Transit Police Officer Luke Sayers said.

As of now, 10 buses are currently outfitted with the new cameras, with 225 scheduled to be outfitted by this coming summer 2014. And although privacy is always an issue with the public when it comes to new surveillance technologies, in this case, it was actually the public that were demanding the cameras. Which makes sense, seeing as Boston is the most recent U.S. city to unfortunately be exposed to the threat of terrorism, following last years Boston Marathon bombing.

“The riders of the MBTA have been asking for cameras for a long time and we think that this will give them confidence that we are doing everything possible to protect them,” said Deputy Superintendent of the MBTA Transit Police Joe O’Connor.

The MBTA says this technology will soon cover more than 70% of bus routes throughout the city.

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Light Bulb Becomes High Tech Surveillance Tool


The invention of the light bulb was a game-changer in human history. And although Thomas Edison usually gets the credit for it’s inception, the truth is that many people contributed to the concept, and for almost 200 years, that concept hasn’t changed much.

But take a step into Terminal B at Newark Liberty International Airport and you will first-hand be exposed to the latest ground-breaking technology in lighting, because not only are the 171 recently installed LED fixtures indeed very bright when you look up at them, they are different than any other light fixture in the entire world for one reason: They’re actually looking back down at you!

That’s right — Terminal B at Newark Airport, which caters to several international airlines such as British Airways, Lufthansa and Air France, is currently experimenting with light fixtures that are also video cameras. And they’re way more than that: Each individual light fixture is equipped with state-of-the-art microchips, sensors, and video cameras, and all them are linked to one another through a wireless surveillance network.

According to the NY Times, “the light fixtures are part of a new wireless network that collects and feeds data into software that can spot long lines, recognize license plates and even identify suspicious activity, sending alerts to the appropriate staff.”

For example, say someone leaves a suspicious bag in the terminal and it hasn’t been picked up for several minutes: The network of lights will recognize this and alert the authorities, which in this case, is the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, seeing as they are the ones who (for now) owns and maintains the data that the network collects.

The company that’s developed the technology being used in Newark is called Sensity Systems, but other companies such as Cisco Systems and Philips are already scrambling to get in on the market. “We see outdoor lighting as the perfect infrastructure to build a brand new network” said Hugh Martin, Sensity’s Chief executive.

The NY Times goes on to say that, “Sensity’s technology…would allow light fixtures and sensors to pinpoint a gunshot, sense an earthquake or dangerous gas, or spot a person stopping at various cars in a parking lot.” And in a setting such as, say, a shopping mall, “…the system could send an alert to a smartphone, showing empty spaces [in a parking lot], or a coupon.”

But of course, with new and emerging technologies comes questions regarding how our privacy rights as a society will be affected. Some are already calling for a policy framework to regulate the use of this technology.

Regardless, you can expect to see this technology slowly become the new standard in the coming years, especially as the software becomes more sophisticated and cheaper. Places like Las Vegas and Copenhagen, Denmark are already experimenting with city-wide uses of this technology, and at Newark Airport, they are already making plans to install the lights throughout the entire airport.

“No one really wanted the smartphone 20 years ago because they didn’t know they could have it,” said Fred Maxik, founder and chief technology officer of Lighting Sciences Group, which manufactures LEDs. “And I think the same is true of lighting today: No one knows what lighting is going to be capable of.”

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LAPD To Use Body-Worn Video Cameras

TASER International’s AXON flex™ On-Officer Police Camera system with Controller, wearable Camera on Oakley® Flak Jacket Glasses

UPDATE as of 1-29-14: 

Los Angeles Police Commission President Steve Soboroff has officially secured funding for roughly 600 body-worn video cameras that he plans to equip on LAPD officers as soon as this coming summer 2014.

“I thought it would take 9 months,” to raise the $1.3 million needed for the project, he said — and it ended up taking only 58 days.

Back in September 2013, Soboroff used his inaugural address as Police Commission President to declare that it was going to be his mission to not only equip police officers with body-worn video cameras, but to also personally go out and find funding for the project, purposely bypassing the slow, bureaucratic process of securing funds from the city of Los Angeles.

According to 89.3 KPCC, “the money came both from individual donors including Steven Speilberg, Casey Wasserman and Jeffrey Katzenberg as well as organizations like Occidental Petroleum and the Dodgers.”

“On-body cameras and the continued addition of in-car cameras are going to be an absolute transformative thing for both sides of the camera from a law enforcement perspective,” said Soboroff. “And I just can’t wait. Because when you get a real record of what’s happening it makes investigating a lot simpler. More importantly, I believe it’s going to change behavior. I think when people know they’re being recorded, their actions may be different, and the ‘he said-she said, let me lawyer up and let me do this and do that’ — I hope that those days get over quickly.”

Soboroff has also stated that he feels the new technology will save the city roughly $20-30 million a year in attorney’s fees and departmental time.

The idea of police wearing body-worn video cameras has been around for a while, but only recently have police departments across the country started to take the concept more seriously. Currently, the most common form of video used in police investigations is surveillance video, video recorded on smartphones, and of course police dash-cam video. But the idea of every officer having a personal video-log to refer back to is surely something that could be very beneficial to every aspect of police interactions and investigations.

However, going forward, there are of course going to be administrative initiatives to establish the rules of using such recording equipment, such as when an officer can turn the cameras on and off. Soboroff made a point to say that the operating procedures will prove to be crucial to ensure that the equipment isn’t used to simply document one side of the story.

Currently, there are several groups of officers that are testing out several different types of cameras to see which ones are more favorable than others. With that, there are still several companies bidding to supply the cameras, including TASER and Coban Technologies.

Soboroff hopes to eventually equip all officers with body-worn cameras, something he says will cost the city an additional couple million dollars. And, “If in their wisdom they decide that the city budget can’t handle it, I’m just going to go out and raise the money again.”

Soboroff has already established himself as reliable and a man of his word. It will be interesting to see the direction in which he leads the LAPD.

UPDATE as of 9-25-13: 

According to The Huffington Post, new Los Angeles Police Commission President Steve Soboroff is claiming he is already making good on his recent pledge to raise money from private donors in order to fund a project that will equip police officers with body-worn digital surveillance video cameras and audio recording devices. Soboroff says so far he has raised roughly half of the million dollars the project will cost, from investors including media giant Casey Wasserman and DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg. City Councilman Mitch Englander even said the testing phase for the cameras may begin as early as next week, saying, “We’re paying out tens of millions of dollars in lawsuits, and these cameras have been shown to lower that amount in other departments.”

During his opening remarks after being newly elected as Police Commission President, Soboroff claimed he would be bringing a new style of aggressiveness to the position, and already, it would appear he is a man of his word.


Original blog from 9-13-13:


The Los Angeles Police Department will soon get a technological makeover, according to the new LAPD Police Commission President, Steve Soboroff.

The LA Times is reporting that a few minutes after Soboroff was elected President of the commission this past Tuesday, he used his opening remarks to bluntly call for the LAPD to begin outfitting their officers with small video cameras, saying the technology needs to be in place soon: “I mean within 18 months, not 18 years,” he said.

Since the infamous Rodney King case in 1991, there has been a push for the LAPD to implement video cameras in all of their patrol cars, but funding throughout the years has been a constant factor in hindering the on-going project. Then, in 2008, the Los Angeles City Council was able to provide enough money to install cameras in about ¼ of the LAPD’s 1200 squad cars, saying more cameras would be installed over the next few years. However, 5 years later, that original ¼ has yet to expand.

Soboroff plans to change that. At the same time, however, he understands that in-car cameras can only film what’s in front of the car, which is why he’s now pushing to put both audio and video recording devices on officers. As the article points out, “Having an audio and video recording of traffic stops, shootings and other encounters is seen as a valuable and cost-saving tool in guarding against misconduct and absolving officers when they are falsely accused of wrongdoing.”

Equipping officers with digital audio recorders, or “DAR’s” as they’re referred to, is nothing new. However, equipping them with video recorders is a new concept, only because the technology has finally come to a point where the video cameras are finally small enough and have enough quality resolution to make video an option. Many law enforcement departments across the country have been experimenting with body worn video systems over the last few years, and some police officers these days even personally choose to wear the devices, without the instructions of their department, in order to “cover their own tail,” so to speak. This concept is actually a major theme in the recent film End of Watch, starring Jake Gyllenhaal.

But although there may be many benefits to officers wearing recording devices, the major issue yet again is who pays for it? Soboroff estimates that it will cost roughly $900,000, but claims that he believes he can convince private donors to invest in the cameras for the department, something that, if successful, “could bypass much of the city’s bureaucracy, internal politics and budget constraints that have hampered the LAPD’s in-car camera project over the years.”

And safe to say, there’s a good chance Soboroff will indeed be able to find these “private donors.” A successful and wealthy businessman, Soboroff was instrumental in getting the Staples Center built in the late 90’s (among other mega-projects), and most recently played a major role in working with NASA to get the Space Shuttle Endeavor permanently exhibited at the California Science Center. Soboroff gets the job done, and it seems he will be bringing a more aggressive style to this job than his predecessors. “I absolutely plan to bring a new approach to this job,” he said.

Watch Soboroff’s comments below:


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Video Evidence Plays Crucial Role in Kelly Thomas Trial


On the night of July 5th, 2011, police officers in Fullerton, California responded to a 911 call that a homeless man was wandering through a bus station parking lot and trying handles of parked car doors. Police officers Manuel Ramos and Joe Wolfe arrived on the scene and attempted to question the man, but he refused to answer questions or even give his name. After searching his backpack and finding mail, ID cards, and other items that did not belong to him, the officers suspected him of theft and realized they might need to arrest him.

The suspect, a homeless man later identified as 37-year-old Kelly Thomas, continued to resist requests of the officers, got up, and began to flee.

The officers tackled the suspect to the ground, at which point he began to kick, punch, and even bite the officers as they struggled to control him. A third officer, Jay Cicinelli, arrived after the fight was already in full progress, saw his two fellow officers on the ground, and rushed in to help and subdue the still-combative suspect.

After several additional minutes of struggle, the officers did subdue Thomas. Thomas died 5 days later.

Through the use of numerous sources of video and audio evidence prepared by NCAVF and testimony by witnesses, the trial demonstrated that officers followed their training regarding proper technique when questioning and subduing a suspect. Yet, in this situation, as the video showed, nothing seemed to work. Initially, the two officers tried to subdue Thomas with their strength, but Thomas’ strength proved to exceed what the two officers could handle. Corporal Cicinelli then arrived and attempted to use his taser, but that didn’t work. Thomas actually fought through the shock of the electric current and continued to fight, seemingly unphased, and then grabbed onto Cicinelli’s taser.

Left with no other option and realizing that the situation was spiraling out of control, Corporal Cicinelli first hit the suspect in the arm — the arm trying to grab his taser — and, when that didn’t stop Thomas, Cicinelli made a split-second decision to use the butt of his taser to physically strike Thomas in the head.

Following the incident, as we’ve seen in case after case, the public was flooded with incorrect information regarding the incident. The police officers reputations were attacked. The incident was labeled a “police brutality” case by the public and the media, going as far as to call it a “beating”, with no real inquiry into the actual facts or chain of events.

Due to the public outrage, Officers Ramos and Cicinelli were charged in the death of Kelly Thomas, marking the first time ever in the history of Orange County that an on-duty officer was charged with a murder. Officer Ramos was charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter and was facing 15 years to life in prison, while Corporal Cicinelli was charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force and was facing a 4 years in prison.

On January 13th, 2014, over two years after the incident and after a month of trial, Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli were acquitted of all charges with a unanimous not guilty verdict by the jury after only 6 to 7 hours of deliberation.

It was a monumental victory for defense attorneys Michael Schwartz and John Barnett, and NCAVF lead expert David Notowitz was honored to serve as the sole video and audio expert on the case for the defense team. The enhanced video and audio evidence prepared by NCAVF over two and a half years played a pivotal role in the officer’s acquittal and established that they acted reasonably and carefully, and that they did not intend to kill anyone that night.

NCAVF wishes to acknowledge that a family is grieving regarding the loss of their son. We send our thoughts and prayers to the family of Kelly Thomas.

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Attorneys Can Better Utilize Video and Audio Evidence

Well, on to 2014…

I often need to educate attorneys about using video and audio evidence in their cases. Attorneys may think all that’s needed is a straightforward few viewings of their client’s surveillance or smartphone evidence plus testing to make sure it plays easily in court. It’s sometimes true that may be all the evidence demands. But I have found that a case with video or audio usually benefits from some enhancement and analysis. And some cases benefit tremendously if proper time is spent enhancing, viewing, and listening to the footage.

I just met with an attorney and carefully reviewed work NCAVF had been doing on his case over the last month. He was a good “student” in that I was able to teach him the options he has in court to use this evidence.

It was a joy to watch his eyes register, “Oh, I get it!” as I ran down the possibilities for using the video sequences in his upcoming trial.

Now he wants us helping playback the evidence in court full time during trial.

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Expectation of Privacy: Why Recording Audio Can Be Illegal


Last week, we touched on consent laws and how states either have a one-party or two-party system. One interesting caveat that plays into consent laws is the idea of an “expectation of privacy,” and this concept is one of the main reasons that there are separate and different laws in regards to the recording of audio and video.

Here’s an example: Say you’re walking down the street with your friend, having a conversation. And lets say that there is a man standing on a street corner, three blocks away from you. Now, as you’re walking and talking with your friend, you both can see the man, and you know that he can see you. With that, obviously, the fact that you are walking down a street with your friend, in plain sight, clearly, that’s not going to be considered “private.”

So recording video of this scene would be fine.

Common sense, right?

However, when you’re walking down that same public street with your friend, having your conversation, knowing that the man down the street can see you, you surely don’t expect that the man can hear you as well. That’s because when we have conversations with people, depending on the setting, we have a higher expectation of privacy: Even though we are in a public space, we don’t expect our private conversations to be heard by anyone other than the person we are talking to.

Therefore, in California, the audio associated with video recordings is always (initially) considered private, and because of this, public surveillance cameras are by law not allowed to record any audio.

Just like with consent laws, though, the exceptions to expectations of privacy come into play when safety issues arise. If someone has an expectation of any kind of impending danger or violence, then that person can record audio that would otherwise be deemed illegally recorded. In fact, in some situations, you can get a judge to sign off on it beforehand, giving you legal permission to record audio if you think your life or the lives of others may be in danger.


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Audio Recording and Consent Laws


In the movies and TV, how does the good guy who’s been framed clear his name? Easy! He hides a recording device in his pocket, confronts the real bad guy and then baits him into confessing, recording every word! Justice! Right?

Unfortunately, in some states in America, the good guy in this scenario might be breaking the law, and he could actually face criminal charges and be sued in civil court for illegally recording someone!

When it comes to the legality of recording conversations with audio, the law varies by state, but there are two central approaches: States either have a One-Party Consent law, or a Two-Party Consent law.

A one-party consent law means that only one of the parties involved in a conversation needs to be aware that a recording is in fact taking place. So, in these states, our good guy would be fine!

In a two-party consent state, though, everyone involved in the conversation needs to be aware that the conversation is being recorded. So if one person is trying to record another, the law says the person recording must inform the other.

The majority of states in the U.S. have one-party consent.

There are 11 two-party consent states: California, Nevada, Washington, Montana, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

However, there are exceptions to the two-party consent law. Say you live in California (a two-party consent state) and you want to record a conversation with a person, but you don’t want to tell them. If the person recording has reason to believe that a crime could be committed, such as extortion, kidnapping, bribery, harassment, or anything involving violence, then that person can record the conversation. In addition, a judge can legally permit it beforehand.

As with many other aspects of life, TV and movies have misled viewers about how real-life situations would or could play out. Just always remember, the old “recorder up the sleeve” trick isn’t always “kosher.”

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Wayne State University and Their Massive Video Surveillance Network


Detroit, Michigan is home to one of the most surveilled college campuses in the entire country: Wayne State University has an astounding 850 surveillance video cameras currently operating. And the man on the other side of the cameras is quite proud of that fact.

“Anywhere on campus, if you look up, I can see you,” says Wayne State University Police Chief Anthony Holt.

The cameras are scattered all across the campus: On top of academic buildings, dorms, traffic lights, recreation centers and light poles. However, of the 380 cameras that are outdoors, most are stationary and cannot be controlled by a dispatcher. But the remaining 450+ cameras are all fully controllable, with a majority of them being high-definition, which enables Chief Holt to “zoom in pretty good.” Additionally, there are more than 20 Detroit Police Department surveillance cameras that were originally installed for the 2006 Super Bowl, and then sat idle for years afterwards until Holt was able to get an OK from the Detroit PD to have the feeds diverted to his dispatch center. All in all, the system cost roughly $3 million, and Holt hopes to soon integrate facial recognition software “once we get the money,” he says.

For those students concerned about their rights to privacy when security personnel get the urge to view students through their dorm windows, Mr. Holt reassures them that his people aren’t allowed to do that.

“There is a privacy issue; we can not look into a dorm window,” Holt said.

The vast network of cameras can also be used for more than just observing the Wayne State campus. On several occasions, Chief Holt says the university’s surveillance system has been instrumental in helping the Detroit police with various matters. In one instance, Holt helped police locate a suicidal man who was threatening to jump from the top of a building some two miles away from the campus (the man was later rescued). Chief Holt is even able to capture screenshots on any one of the cameras and instantaneously send them to patrolling squad cars. And students on the campus can also utilize what’s called “safe walks,” where they can call in and actually request to be monitored on one of the countless cameras as they walk home or between buildings.

“We do a lot of service, not just crime fighting,” Chief Holt says.

As surveillance video and audio recording devices continue to pop up all over the country, don’t be surprised to see other college campuses follow in Wayne State’s footsteps. Just last month, the University of Kentucky announced that it plans to install 2000 video surveillance cameras on campus!

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Colorado Police Now Using Body-Worn Video Surveillance Cameras


As Steve Soboroff and the LAPD continue to gain funding and momentum to equip police officers with body-worn video cameras, the Fort Collins Police Department in Colorado has already embraced and implemented the concept.

According to CBS Denver, some of the video cameras were first deployed in August 2012, but the department plans to add another 60 to police officers in the coming months.

However, a main concern among critics and the public is that officers equipped with the body-worn video cameras have the option to turn the cameras on and off.

“Police officers might be able to turn them off when their behavior is questionable,” said Cheryl Distaso with the Fort Collins Community Action Network, also adding that the cameras could be considered an invasion of privacy, seeing as “Police officers enter people’s homes. They enter their personal space. And there is no way to opt out.”

The Fort Collins City Council will vote on adding the additional cameras next month on November 5th. If approved, the estimated cost is roughly $181,000, and they could be in use as early as January 2014.

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