An Ohio-based surveillance company working with police has created the law enforcement surveillance model of the future, giving cops the ability to capture the activity of an entire city on video.
The eerily-named Persistent Surveillance Systems is headed by former Air Force veteran and engineer Ross McNutt, and employs a system known as wide-area surveillance, which films an entire city from the air in real-time.
“Imagine Google Earth with a rewind button and the ability to play back the movement of cars and people as they scurry about the city,” a cironline.org report said.
McNutt and his company recently convinced the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to let them surveil a series of necklace snatchings in Compton, Calif., and track down suspects from the moment the thefts occurred.
“We literally watched all of Compton during the time that we were flying, so we could zoom in anywhere within the city of Compton and follow cars and see people,” McNutt said. “Our goal was to basically jump to where reported crimes occurred and see what information we could generate that would help investigators solve the crimes.”
McNutt helped build similar technology for the military to track down bombing suspects in Iraq and Afghanistan, and noticed that by attaching powerful surveillance cameras to civilian aircraft, the same system could be used for domestic law enforcement.
“Our whole system costs less than the price of a single police helicopter and costs less for an hour to operate than a police helicopter,” McNutt told CIR. “But at the same time, it watches 10,000 times the area that a police helicopter could watch.”
McNutt’s surveillance system is one among a handful of new digital-based endeavors thrusting law enforcement into the future, and even the imagined Hollywood versions of it.
Take, for instance, Chicago PD’s “Minority Report”-esque computer, which is being designed to estimate and predict future criminal activity, and multiple California departments’ use of “stingray” anti-terrorism tech, which tracks all of the cellphone use data for a given area.
“What it potentially means is that we’re able to catch bad guys faster, and we’re able to get them off the streets a lot faster with the technologies we have so they don’t commit another crime,” acting assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division Jeremy Wiltz said.
A new database under development by the FBI and part of the agency’s Next Generation Identification program already has more than 147 million portraits and sets of fingerprints belonging to criminals and n0n-criminals alike, and Chula Vista police near San Diego have already begun using tablets with facial recognition technology to snap pictures of suspects and identify wanted criminals in eight seconds.
“You can lie about your name, you can lie about your date of birth, you can lie about your address,” Chula Vista Officer Rob Halverson said. “But tattoos, birthmarks, scars don’t lie.”
In the case of the wide-area surveillance system, McNutt believes that in a few years it will be capable of surveilling an entire city on the scale of San Francisco.
“The system was kind of kept confidential from everybody in the public,” L.A. County sheriff’s sergeant and project supervisor Doug Iketani said. “A lot of people do have a problem with the eye in the sky, the Big Brother, so in order to mitigate any of those kinds of complaints, we basically kept it pretty hush-hush.”