Covert Surveillance Can Resolve Annoying Problems

An increasingly popular tool in the protection of a company's assets is the covert camera. When used appropriately and in the correct environment, a concealed video camera with recorder can reveal both anticipated and surprising answers. Applications can be complex involving multiple camera locations and screen splitters and time lapse recorder or it can a simple ceiling mounted camera watching a filing cabinet. The miniaturization of the camera down to incredible sizes has allowed for more creativity in concealment. 'Board' Cameras now weigh as little as 1-2 ounces. On one particular assignment, my technicians decided that the best place to hide the camera was taped to the backside of a movie poster and viewing activity through a 1/16 inch hole.

Last year, a client wanted to find out who was scratching the brass finish in his elevators. After an hour of puzzling over where to hide it, we noticed that one eyelet of the elevator's protective padding was off its stud, we taped a camera to the back of the padding with the lens 'looking' through the pad's eyelet. The mailroom clerk was recorded leaving his 'signature' within a week.

You can now purchase cameras hidden in smoke detectors, thermostats and fire sprinkler heads. Some creative distributors are now packaging a camera (and recorder) in trashcans and in what appears to be a set (3) of three ring binders that can be placed on a shelf.

Recently, I was asked to assist a client in identifying the person(s) that was stealing computer components from their offices. Having installed four covert cameras wired to a screen splitter and time lapse recorder, the client and I awaited the next event to occur. Within a week, a CPU was removed from a private office and I was called in to review the recording. To my client's surprise and disappointment, the culprit was one of his own staff, an engineer with over ten years of service and making an excellent salary. My subsequent interview of the individual revealed that he had been removing all sorts of computer equipment for more than a year. Based on the videotape and admissions, the client decided to prosecute.

A word of warning about rights to privacy. Never install a camera in an area where a 'reasonable person' would expect to have exclusive (and private) use of a room or in such areas as locker rooms, bathrooms, bedrooms or (clothing) changing rooms in retails stores. However, there is always the exception. A few years ago, another elevator installation was performed to identify the person occasionally using the elevator as a bathroom. Not knowing if it was male or female, it was decided that only the corporate director would review the tapes and erase them immediately after the review. It turned out to be a 20+ year employee (male) who was angry over not receiving a favorable review and pay raise.

If you are reluctant to employ this tactic because of concerns about privacy, remember that we are all under constant surveillance in stores, banks and malls and now even on the streets of our towns, as police departments utilize this tool to observe and monitor traffic and high crime areas. Banks have used recording equipment for years, as have all of the major retail chains. Don't feel like investing the money into purchasing equipment you will only use once or twice a year? Do some research. There are a few investigations agencies that are now marketing the lease and installation of complete systems. Just be sure that the agency you select has the equipment and expertise to get the job done.

James M. Dallas, CPP, Dec, 1996
Reprinted from Risk Management Newsletter

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