Personal Surveillance Systems and Portable CCTV Products

The military uses them to monitor missions and troop movements. Athletes use them for training. Tourists, performance artists, video bloggers and podcasters love them. What are they? Personal surveillance systems, of course.

Personal surveillance relies on portable battery powered CCTV cameras. While these devices come in many sizes and shapes, they fall into two basic categories. Body cameras are usually worn on a helmet, hat or lapel, and mostly monitor things happening in front of the user. External cameras, the second category, record the user and the surrounding area. Both technologies make records of the user's interactions with other people.

While video generated by personal security products can be used for entertainment and vanity projects, the primary factor driving this technology is personal safety. High profile crime, mass shootings, random violence and terrorism are concerns cited by most users of surveillance networks, and users of personal surveillance equipment are no different. Sadly, one of the factors fueling the demand for personal security cameras is growing distrust of law enforcement and the court system. The trickle of bad news seems endless; police shake down cars with out-of-state plates and confiscate cash that is never returned, officers react to minor infractions with deadly force, simple street encounters spin out of control into horrific acts of violence. Making matters worse, the public notices that law enforcement officers involved in these incidents are rarely held accountable. The perception of injustice is inescapable.

Of the 254 law enforcement agencies that responded to a 2013 survey conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum, only 25% used body cameras and almost a third of them had no written policies concerning use of the camera and related equipment. Without policies that set clear rules and standard operating procedures (when a camera must be turned on and off), body cameras worn by the police can be ineffective at curbing misconduct.

Many consumers think the police need to be policed. Smartphone cameras are good tools for recording interactions with law enforcement on the street, but smartphones can be destroyed or “disappeared” while in custody. A personal surveillance system that streams video to the cloud, or one that is mounted inside a vehicle is another thing, and that's where personal surveillance systems enter the picture.

Forms of Personal Surveillance

Body cameras are usually attached to an article of clothing. Covert body cameras are designed to be worn under the clothing where they can not be seen. Some of these cameras stream to the cloud, and some use internal storage for saving video files. These devices are quite small and lightweight, and depend on batteries carried on the person.

External surveillance cameras can be carried or attached to a vehicle or stationary object. Like body cameras, external camera designs may be covert in nature. Some personal surveillance devices are built into pens, prescription eyeglass or sunglass frames, mugs, hats and other objects. New camera-equipped quadcopters and drones have “follow me” functions that let users do whatever they please while being monitored by hovering video surveillance. All of these devices rely on an internal power source.

Permanently mounted external cameras are the third type of personal surveillance. Mounted on the housing of a sport craft or the dashboard of a vehicle, this kind of personal surveillance offers distinct advantages. Power comes from the vehicle battery. Mounted cameras are difficult to remove so criminals can't make them “disappear” without substantial effort. Many systems are passive and turn on/off with no user intervention. Dashboard cams can record the road, everyone inside the vehicle, anyone who walks up to the driver or passenger windows, or all of these areas at once with little or no user effort. These products record audio and GPS data, acceleration, starts, stops and vehicle speed, making them perfect for fleet vehicles. Video recordings made by dashboard cams do more than help fight crime, they can help defendants fight traffic tickets in court and prove insurance claims.

What to Look For in a Personal Security Camera

Your lifestyle dictates the type of personal CCTV camera product you need. You need the clearest, sharpest and most stable image possible if you want to use video in a court of law. Any camera you select must have a distortion free lens with as wide an angle as possible, and HD or better imaging. Look for hardened, water-proof and shock-proof equipment if you are going to wear the camera or mount it on a bike, skateboard or similar location. If you do not stream content to the cloud or an external location then the product needs enough on-board storage to record incidents throughout the day.

No matter what product you choose, get familiar with it. Understand how it works. Test your camera to make sure you know what kind of image it creates in different light. It's up to you to get the most out of a personal security device, body camera or dashboard cam. The time you invest in learning how to use your surveillance product is worth it, and may someday help save your life or be the only witness that can defend you in court.