Biggest Misconception Security Managers Have About CCTV

Author: Carlton Purvis, Published on Apr 09, 2014

Cameras for surveillance are a waste most of the time, according to security consultant John Strauchs. For this post, we interviewed him on misconceptions of CCTV and dealing with security managers.

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Comments (43)

This is an interesting perspective. I think most industry people mean 'forensics' when they say 'surveillance'. This is the heart of the live monitoring vs recorded video distinction.

And I see the positive of trail cams, in that they are inexpensive, high resolution and simple to set up. But, then, you absolutely give away all possibility of 'surveillance'.

While I agree that most of the time, cameras are not being used for 'surveillance', the possibility / ability to periodicly conduct surveillance is quite valuable.

Trailcams? Really? That is horrible advice. Dropcams are cheaper than a quality trailcam AND easier to program/install. Not to mention the aesthetics difference between the two.

If I said to an executive, “What? You want to see live footage of what is going on in your house from anywhere on any device? That is stupid, put up this trail cam.” I would be out of a job and rightly so.

Also, what security managers is Mr. Strauchs talking to that are so ignorant of the field they are in? Are you sure he was not speaking about managers or corporate executives in general? Maybe IT Security managers?

Btw, this is not the first time a senior industry person has raised concerns about users deploying too many cameras. See our interview with Charlie Pierce.

Mr. Strauchs isn’t saying don’t put more or too many cameras he seems to be saying don’t put any cameras. It is almost like we are missing something from this interview or missing his main point. Was there more to this Carlton?

He's saying don't put so many cameras expecting surveillance, which he seperates from forensic value. To him if someone is not actively watching the cameras, it's not surveillance. He was also saying that people think more coverage is going to provide that "surveillance" value, but he doesn't think that's the case.

Got it! Thanks Carlton!

I mostly agree with him. In some ways, he seems closed-minded. It's almost like he's only provide part of a solution.

My thoughts... there are two (main) different reasons why you usually put up cameras. One is proactive (meaning actively watched), the other is forensic (after the fact, "lets see what happened") in nature which fits most implementations/installations. If it's after the fact, then the video could be handy in resolving the breach, identifying the perps, etc., and so yes, it's important to have imho.

Further, it's up to the installer/integrator to get that message accross. And to me, there are two types of installers/integrators... one has the physical security background to identify the correct needs of the client, and the other has the skills and background to install devices. Most that I have seen fall into the latter. It's much like having the cable guy come install your cable television service... they put it where you (or sometimes where they)want it without any further thought. You get my drift.

What also needs to be made clear is that video surveillance is only part of the solution. To take it out completely is like installing a home theater system with no speakers.

Absolutely spot on.

His use of 'forensic' is interesting. I would have used 'investigatory' or 'evidentiary'. Makes the meaning clearer.

That said, his recommendation of trail cameras makes a lot of sense if 1) they're going to be used as "trap" cameras, recording some tempting valuables and letting a thief get caught stealing them, and 2) if you have to decide between hiring security officers and paying for cameras. If your CCTV budget is seperate from your security officer budget, though, or if you use surveillance video as a force multiplier to make your officers more effective, then I would argue that surveillance offers greater value than he's implying here.

But an interview like this is just a reminder than security isn't a product, it's a process. If in a particular case security officers give a better value than cameras, then security officers is the way to go.

"his recommendation of trail cameras makes a lot of sense if....." Really? No matter how many ifs you add I disagree with using any type of trailcam for any reason in an office/corporate environment. In fact, I disagree with using a trailcam for anything other than what it was specifically made for. A quality trailcam Cabela's Trailcams is $150 on the low end without factoring in batteries or a memory card. Why would you ever use that inside a building instead of a cheaper POE camera? Sure there are places that do not have any network and then it might be an acceptable use. I find even the mentioning of trailcams as a viable alternative ludicrous.

Ari, please don’t spend too much time thinking of the one in a million scenario where trailcams would be a better use than IP cameras! ;-)

Well, I guess we agree, because I would never use a trail camera in an office/corporate enviroment either. I do, however, see how they would be practical in areas with no network or electricity, such as sheds, outdoor storage areas, parking areas, and so forth.

And a good trailcamera, like the Moultrie M-550, is less than $100, batteries are practically sold by the pound nowadays, and a 32gb SD card is less than $20 and can be used for other stuff.

I'm not saying that you should always use a trail cam. I'm not even saying that you should sometimes use a trail cam. What I am saying is that if you follow this guy's logic all the way to the end, that security cameras are not for live viewing and only for going back and checking the video after the fact, when you know an incident occured and you just want to know when and who, well, why shouldn't he use trail cams? If he doesn't believe in watching the cameras live, why even bother connecting the camera to the network?

There's plenty here to pick apart without going after the trail camera specifically, because use of trail cameras are at least internally consistant.

Ahhhhh OK, now see that makes perfect sense to me! I was not looking at it through his eyes or way of thinking. Switching my mindset did the trick. Thanks Ari!

One of the biggest issues buying surveillance system is that the buyer often focuses and chooses between either a great sales man or the price and maybe both. All 3 will often not solve his problem.

In many cases I think that the customers has to little knowledge about what is possible and what is needed to solve different problems or issues.

Furthermore it is not that often that one solution will solve all issues.

NOTE: I woul never advise trail cams!!

I take it that when saying that "...he’s hardly seen anywhere other than military facilities and prisons with effective surveillance programs" Mr. Strauchs hasn't visited many casinos? Because they tend to have the money and, at least in Asia, the manpower to effectively monitor (vital events at any rate and this effectively means losing gaming tables or slots or high value transactions) and to perform forensics when it is believed that something has gone on.

In addition there are integrations out there, including the company I now work for, that take data feeds and integrate this with video so that, provided the system is digital, any event can be viewed instantly; as well as providing analytics that can identify suspicious incidents buried among the data so that people can look at it, bring their expertise to bear and determine whether a crime has taken place.

I appreciate that this is not a common market, but it is a large one with considerable resources at its disposal and systems to monitor POS transactions are not only a must have but relatively cheap too.

Somewhere in there I missed the deterrence function.

Regarding deterrence, if you really want deterrence, save your money and buy dummy cameras...

I don't disagree about how cameras can deter some people but that can better be accomplished through cheap, fake cameras.

There are quite a few instances where using dummy cameras are a liablity for the property owner/manager to install. The cameras give customers/occupants a false sense of security that the could come back to bite the owners in the rear, or so I'm told by some of my property managment customers.

"There are quite a few instances where using dummy cameras are a liablity for the property owner/manager to install."

Alon, give me real cases. We've actually investigated this and it appears to be more myth than reality. For example, see: Rape Under A Dummy Camera - Is This A True Story?


I cant give you any specific litigation ... but when overhauling a chain of self storage locations the first thing the owner said was that all existing dummies were to be removed and no additional ones were to be incorporated in the new design. He mentioned that these were the instructions from his lawyer and I honestly didn't ask for more info.

I will shoot him an email to try and find out what the lawyer specifically instructed and why or to see if I can get a hold of the lawyer directly.

I believe you that a lawyer instructed this.

That said, lawyers are paid to be super conservative and hedge against all real as well as probably imaginary risks.

I'd still love to see a case where dummy cameras lead to a significant real judgement against a user. Thanks!

I believe it would be something regarding the false sense of security provided by the dummy cameras. For instance, if I bought storage at the storage unit because I saw dummy cameras and thought that they were real then something happened. Then the owner can be sued because it can be said that he knew there were issues that were occurring and only half fixed the problem (putting up dummy cameras). If he did nothing at all, the owner would be better off because he can claim he didn't realize there were issues. So it comes back to do your best to resolve the issue or don't do anything at all because going the partial way means you knew that something was wrong but only half attempted to fix it. So it falls on you for not fixing it correctly. (hope that makes sense)

this guy sounds like the lawyer you guys are talking about.

Svet, my friend, with me called five personal-likability type lawyers each, in downtown Belgrade describing fabricational same situation, i.g., my little shoppe with dummy cameras, where woman-in-terror thought was safe to shelter; moth-ily drawn running to steady blink-blink of red reassurance, only to find real reassurance never would go on the blink. I told story as shoppe keeper, Svet told as woman's infuriated love-lust.

The results: 4 said come in and we shalll talk or don't know must research or find out if he has insurance.

Of 6 others, my three said basically 'woman has no case to stand on", his three said "you are entitled to make him pay" , by accident we called same law offfice at same time, two different partners, two different 'opinons'.:)

where woman-in-terror thought was safe to shelter; moth-ily drawn running to steady blink-blink of red reassurance, only to find real reassurance never would go on the blink.

You are wasted in the security world. Go and write poetry instead.

woman-in-terror...; moth-ily drawn running to steady blink-blink

hmm... what kind of idiotic statement is that? Is it REALLY necessary to describe women in this manner? Sheesh, and here I thought I was in a professional group.

Margarita, please let myself not represent others who are much more professed in their own grouping, of which I know I cannot lump myself. My english, although sometimes I tease myself that it is not the work of an absolute idoit, is a mixture of my young youth growing up half in Cairo and half in Belgrade, with my father a working in the diplomatic service of her majesty, and then this auto-correcting ipad which sometimes suggests oddball words to which I should shun. I only said about woman-in-terror as a way to paint quickly a cliche, as we still are not as progressive as americans with respect to women. Get this one! Women in Serbia are not allowed by law to own handguns, let alone fire them! Backwards society here.

And i am sorry to you, Margarita...

That's the thing. This guy has taken Bruce Schneier's argument- that the deterence factor of surveillance is nearly nonexistent, and that cameras are mainly for forensics- to the extreme.

In UK Casinos audio of the gaming tables, Cash desk and receptions are allowed. This, despite the fact that it is well known, doesn't deter staff fromtalking about all kinds of subjects. Including on one memorable occasion a trainee croupier regailing his colleagues with stories of his drug fueled debauchery of the night before. Suffice to say his employment was not long continued.

Any deterrent effect, IMO, is short lived, if it is even noticable. Most people realise quite early on than it is unlikely that anyone is actively watching and therefore decide to "take their chances".

He is obviously blissfully ignorant about Casino Surveillance.

Sure, so casinos are definitely one where real 'surveillance' occurs. His meta point does have value, though, i.e., "80 percent of the time, sites are buying cameras with surveillance in mind -- they think they are going to be able to keep an eye on a site and watch for incidents."

He is obviously blissfully ignorant about Casino Surveillance.

So am I, even though we had that great discussion a little while ago, where you stated you rolled-over 7-8TB of footage in ten years and we talked about how much was actually retained.

Here's the flip side of that one if you care to take a SWAG at it. What percentage of the 7-8TB was/is ever 'surveilled' live? Do you have a target amount?

Looking back when the system was first implemented, is it possible that you envisioned a greater percentage of the footage would be viewed live than it is today?, thereby partially upholding Mr. Strauchs general assertion that people overestimate the difficulty in true surveillence, and therefore fall short of their original expectation?

On the other hand, even if he's correct and video is never viewed unless it is later deemed necessary in reaction to an incedent, that shows a greater, not a lesser, need for surveillance. We don't know where an incident is going to occur, after all, and therefore video not viewed live is not wasted unless we later discover that no notable incident occured in the view of that camera after all.

Schrodinger's network video recorder, basically.

Schrodinger's network video recorder, basically...

In addition Quantum drives in a Redundant Array of Indeterminate Disks are recommended to provide maximum uncertainty...


I can't hazard a guess what percentage of our evidence clips resulted from "live" observations versus after-the-fact. I would guess it's somewhere around one half.

As far as what is/was viewed "Live", it has stayed relatively constant in the over 16 years I've been here - the camera counts have increased but we still watch the same things in a larger area with a larger system (and far better, considering we had 330TVL cameras, VCRs, multiplexers and 14" analog monitors when I started).

I can't hazard a guess what percentage of our evidence clips resulted from "live" observations versus after-the-fact. I would guess it's somewhere around one half.

Sure you can. ;)

I'd argue that there was still a lot of value to be gained by forensic examination of video footage. Maybe incidents were not detected while they happened but later review may identify perpetrators, or procedural loopholes. Such as the failure to lock-down quickly enough in that school from which the autistic pupil escaped?

To me, as a Security Manager, a security camera is most valuable whenever an alarm system sensor is tripped and a near-by camera can be used by the video operator to verify the issue so he can provide the most propper response to the scene.

Consultants seem to like to differentiate themselves from one another, and lessening the importance of video seems to be this guy's thing and I wish him luck.

How do you get the impression that he's "lessening the importance of video?"

The don't do it rule gave me that impression, three times over.

I have no idea what you're talking about. That section is talking about people who fall for products based on marketing. That section isn't him talking about his stance on video surveillance.

*I just added "due to marketing" there, but I'm really surpised that clarification is needed if someone read the preceeding paragraph.

Okay, I get it now. I had read the article during multiple job related interruptions and got a little confused. He's really not lessening the value security video provides. He does think some security managers can't see through the marketing hype surrounding cameras and I suppose they are out there. They should subscribe to IPVM.

I was thinking he had a bad experience with surveillance in ye olden dayes and hasn't reexamined his assumptions since then. Maybe the VCR ate his tape and let a bad guy get away.

I am not sure what to think of the article. I really did not get much out of it other then to say I am not sure John Strauch does not know what he's talking about. If he is talking to a true Security Professional who is truly in the Security industry working in his field then John does not know what he’s talking about.

If he is talking to an individual who has the title of security manager and this is merely a collateral duty or part time hat he or she wears when not doing his primary function as properties manager or building engineer then he is right they have no clue what they are asking for or what the final result will be.

Take even the large universities or independent school districts often the director of security is a police officer. Many police officers don’t know what they are talking about when it comes to cameras either. However they are given the title of Security manager or director of security.

A good friend of mine whom I served with in the military for years, is the director of safety and Security for a large Texas College. He is the first person to admit he knows little about Security and lots about Safety.

Even many bank’s and credit unions don’t have a knowledgeable about security. The main reason for this is there is no requirement to put a person in charge of security who knows what they are doing. The bank Protection act of 1968 says the bank must appoint a security officer. In many institutions this person is a senior lender or other banker who has other duties such as finding new clients to bring in revenue not protect the banks assets.

The only point John makes that makes sense is the fact that there is a difference between putting in a system to actively watch for as I like to put it “catch shop lifters” in a retail store such as Target or Wal-Mart and putting up cameras for evidentiary purposes for review later. This has been stated before but another point to bring up is all to often people think they simply can put up a PTZ camera and solve the entire problem and cover an entire scene.

I recall one of my deployments with the military to the Middle East. My mission was to help run a prison set up after 911. During the deployment the prison was receiving some much needed upgrades. One being the planning for a CCTV system. One of the individuals I had to work with was under the impression that if we simply put up ten PTZ’s through out the facility we could cover the entire prison. My plan called for 45 fixed cameras and only 4 PTZ’s. We argued about this point for days. He just did not understand the point that yes a PTZ can be moved to any point in its field of view but the issue was that when it looked in one direction it was not looking in another.

Anyway my point being most true security professionals understand what they are asking for. And the folks John is describing are not security professionals. They are simply wearing the hat along with many others and they probable spend most of their time on the job they know best and which in most cases is not security.

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