CCTV: Keeping watch over corrections

CCTV videos can help us shine as professionals and capture evidence when inmates and officers break the rules


By Barry Evert

Some form of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) will soon be commonplace in most facilities. This is not a bad thing. For years, officers have been telling each other that if the average citizen only knew what went on in prison, we would have more respect and better funding. Well, here’s our chance. CCTV videos can help us shine as professionals and capture evidence when inmates and officers break the rules. There are three main options for CCTV cameras — below we look briefly at each.

Fixed Cameras
Although budget friendly, fixed cameras rarely catch what we need them too. With limited maneuverability, fixed cameras are often found in certain parts of retail establishments to monitor high value items, or to watch entrance or egress areas such as loading docks and doorways.

In the coming years some form of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) will become commonplace in most facilities. (AP photo)
In the coming years some form of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) will become commonplace in most facilities. (AP photo)

Pan and Tilt (PT) Cameras
PT cameras pan (side to side) and tilt (up and down) as needed. Some models can be programmed to move in a pattern to scan an area. One downside is they may only catch small parts of an incident every couple of seconds. A trained employee who remotely controls PT cameras provides enhanced security and a dramatic increase in evidentiary value.

Pan, Tilt, and Zoom (PTZ) Cameras
In addition to panning and tilting, PTZ cameras offer zoom capabilities. Be wary of cheaper models, as these may lose resolution with increased zooming. PTZ is by far the preferred technology for serious monitoring, and though they may cost more, the return on investment is huge.

Placement
Now that we’ve discussed the three main CCTV options, let’s talk placement. As a rule, cameras should be placed high enough to prevent tampering, but low enough to easily maintain. Keep in mind that cameras placed high up need adequate zooming power to still be effective. No jury wants to see footage that looks like it was shot from a 737 flying over the prison.

Parts of the camera to consider:

Base
Is the base mountable in any position? Is it steel or plastic? In general, steel bases that are mountable in any position are preferable.

Case
Is it stainless steel, ABS plastic, or made of recycled soda pop bottles? This makes a huge difference, especially in relation to tampering and weather. Look for a case that is sturdy and weatherproof.

Lens
Go for high quality, because the lens makes all the difference when you need to zoom in or see clearly. A cheap lens will ruin an otherwise great camera.

Connection
Make sure the connection is all-weather and adaptable. Try to avoid units that can only connect to one type of receiver. They may work in the short term, but you’ll want some flexibility if you need to replace just the camera, or just the receiver, down the line.

Capturing Equipment
Digital or analog both have their advantages and disadvantages. Laws regulating how long you must store regular and evidentiary footage vary by state. If your state requires no storage for regular tapings, VHS may work fine, although playback will be lower quality. If you need long-term, high-resolution storage, then digital is the obvious answer. You’ll need a computer to screen digital footage, so keep that added cost in mind.

A Final Thought: Briefing Staff
No camera system, regardless of sophistication, will be effective unless your staff is fully on board with the program. Explain to your staff that CCTV is primarily for capturing evidence of crimes committed by bad guys. Some officers may fear losing their jobs to a camera, and they’ll likely be uneasy with the loss of privacy that comes with these systems.

This is why you must candidly (excuse the pun) explain why you are going with CCTV. If you have staff concerns, cite examples of issues you are seeing, and challenge staff to come up with a better solution. Once your staff realizes the primary purpose of CCTV is to bust bad guys, or to prevent them from escaping, there should be no issue at all.

As always, be safe and watch your six.

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