Physical Surveillance Vs. Unmanned Surveillance

Jan 6, 2015

In recent years, there have been companies that are marketing unmanned surveillance platforms. Some companies are selling unmanned surveillance platforms directly to insurance companies, third party administrators, corporations, and surveillance investigators. Surveillance investigators who have unmanned surveillance platforms oftentimes offer the equipment as a service to clients, and sometimes use the equipment to gather information to use in conjunction with physical surveillance.

With this type of equipment becoming widely available, is unmanned surveillance a suitable substitute to a physical investigator – an actual human presence? To answer this question, we have to take a look at the type of use for the equipment the client has in mind. For investigations where there is a need to conduct mobile surveillance of an individual, or where multiple viewing vantage points are required, there simply is no substitute for the flexibility and adaptability that a physical investigator provides. By the very nature of an unmanned surveillance platform, it is limited in use because once positioned, it is stationary. The more sophisticated types of equipment have the ability to remotely rotate the viewing lens for a larger field of view. However, there simply is no substitute for the ability of a physical investigator to aim a camcorder in a 3 dimensional space with no limitations on keeping the camcorder mounted on a device. The physical surveillance investigator has the ability to quickly reposition the vehicle that is being used, whereas an unmanned surveillance platform is typically concealed or otherwise mounted inside a parked vehicle or other stationary object. Physical investigators can reposition the camcorder or the vehicle when an unexpected object blocks the camera’s field of view. Advantage: physical investigator.

To maintain the highest clarity of video, physical investigators know there is frequent analyzing, and thus frequent adjustments that need to be made both to the camcorder as well as to the vehicle that the camcorder is positioned inside. In clear weather conditions, camcorders can typically be left in autofocus mode. However, if there are any weather conditions where rain drops, snowflakes, or even dirt spots on windows accumulate, the investigator is able to switch from autofocus to manual focus to ensure the camcorder focuses on the desired object rather than what is covering the outside windows of the vehicle. In adverse conditions, physical investigators might have to clean the windows of their vehicles multiple times per day to maintain the highest quality of video footage possible. Physical investigators can defrost windows, remove snow, and use windshield wipers. Advantage: physical investigator.

By far the biggest advantage of the physical investigator is the ability to conduct mobile surveillance once the subject departs any one area. In today’s world, with the use of surveillance becoming more common, and thus its use being more widely known, physical investigators are more likely to obtain valuable documentation AWAY from the subject’s residence. Since unmanned surveillance platforms are commonly set up at the subject’s residence, a limited amount of activity will be documented. Advantage: physical investigator.

So what, if any, are the advantages of unmanned surveillance platforms? The use of this type of equipment can be beneficial in situations where a more mobile security system is needed. Typical security cameras are permanently mounted and wired. Unmanned surveillance platforms provide a greater degree of flexibility than permanently mounted systems. A second advantage to unmanned surveillance platforms is in the ability to conceal the system. Permanently mounted surveillance cameras are generally placed in locations to act as a deterrent to unwanted behavior as well as to document activity. Unmanned surveillance platforms can be positioned and mounted in a variety of locations. Particularly when paired with a dedicated power source, they provide covert documentation.

The other major benefit of unmanned surveillance platforms, specifically when compared with a physical investigator, is the benefit of time. Once set up, unmanned surveillance platforms can document a specific location for days, weeks, or more. Documenting the desired activity that is viewed through the lens can be started and stopped remotely on the more sophisticated systems. Unmanned surveillance systems can be beneficial in cases of equipment and other personal property theft where the occurrence may be infrequent. Surveillance investigators sometimes use unmanned surveillance systems to establish patterns of activity. This information can then be used to determine when physical surveillance will be most beneficial.

Will unmanned surveillance platform technology replace the physical investigator? The current technology does not have the flexibility and adaptability that the physical investigator offers. Just like any other piece of equipment, unmanned surveillance platforms have limitations that should be considered before making the decision to use the equipment on any particular case. Finally, make sure to check with state laws regarding the admissibility of video or photo documentation that is obtained when a physical investigator is not present.