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What Is Surveillance? - Definition, Systems & Techniques

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  • 0:01 Surveillance Defined
  • 1:21 Techniques for…
  • 3:12 Surveillance Systems
  • 5:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Janell Blanco
In this lesson, we'll explore the definition of police surveillance. You'll learn about law enforcement surveilling techniques as well as the systems and technologies police agencies use to complete surveillance, from infrared goggles to drones.

Surveillance Defined

Sarah is sitting in a dark cell at her local police department. She is wondering how the police department figured out she was the one stealing items from the cars in town. Officer James takes Sarah into the interrogation room and tells Sarah that the officers have been conducting surveillance in town. After reviewing the evidence from the surveillance, Officer James tells Sarah that the evidence shows she was the one illegally entering the cars in town and stealing items from the cars.

When law enforcement agencies and government entities want to gather information about a crime, detect or prevent crime, or investigate crimes that have already taken place, they use surveillance. Surveillance is defined as conducting close observations of an individual or a group.

When there were cars being broken into in Sarah's neighborhood, the officers in her town discussed various ways to catch the individual responsible. The surveillance that was conducted included undercover officers watching different vehicles around town, cameras on street lights, and fingerprints collected from the scene. Sarah was caught because of the diligent surveillance team. Surveillance can be completed using several systems and techniques, which we will now discuss.

Techniques for Conducting Surveillance

One of the most common and oldest techniques for surveillance is to actually follow and watch the individual. Agents are known to sit near the homes of suspects and document when they are home and when they leave. This direct form of surveillance establishes the suspect's daily routine, but the downfall is that it may require many man hours.

Alternatively, instead of using law enforcement agents to follow suspects, agencies have begun to rely on technology to complete surveillance. There are two other techniques known as preconstructive and reconstructive surveillance.

Preconstructive surveillance is used to watch certain areas using closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras that record and transmit to local police agencies. The cameras tape the actions and events in a certain area and serve as the law enforcement's eyes and ears. Preconstructive surveillance also can be used to establish which individuals frequently are in the area.

Sarah was identified in several of the CCTVs throughout the area where the car break-ins were taking place. The officers watched the recordings on the CCTVs to complete surveillance of the area and identify subjects who were seen often. The police used preconstructive surveillance techniques and technology in this instance.

Reconstructive surveillance, in contrast, uses evidence left behind at a crime scene to reconstruct events that have taken place. Using fingerprint powder, law enforcement was able to identify Sarah by the fingerprints she left in the cars she broke into. She was not actually seen entering all the vehicles, but the fingerprints and possible DNA she left behind gave the law enforcement team the ability to use reconstructive surveillance.

Surveillance Systems

Law enforcement agents are not available to physically follow suspects around for great lengths of time. Consequently, agencies have begun relying on surveillance systems and technologies to help them monitor the activities of suspects.

Satellites are used to capture pictures of areas of interest. Law enforcement agencies use the pictures to compare images over a period of time.

Along with satellites, video cameras are utilized to record areas of interest. Many roadways, intersections, and stoplights have video cameras. Law enforcement agents use video cameras to complete surveillance on these areas. They are able to record the activities that are taking place and can use the recordings in an investigation.

When agents need to hear conversations that are taking place outside of video recordings, they use long range listening devices. Long range listening devices are much like their name. They are used to listen to suspects' conversations. They can be placed in common areas that suspects visit, and then law enforcement agents can use the listening devices to compile audio evidence.

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