Digital stakeouts

     When the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) conducts sustained surveillance of marijuana grow fields, they need video systems that not only produce high-quality images, but that also tolerate rain, humidity and temperature fluctuations...

     When the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) conducts sustained surveillance of marijuana grow fields, they need video systems that not only produce high-quality images, but that also tolerate rain, humidity and temperature fluctuations — even dirt.

     The case for video surveillance technology is only as strong as the quality of the final evidence. For more than 12 years, KBI has used video surveillance systems from Sur-Tec Inc., part of the Clarence M. Kelley Group, headquartered in Lenexa, Kansas. Sur-Tec, an original equipment manufacturer that supplies equipment solely to the government marketplace, makes a digital video surveillance system called the XOA Series, which KBI has employed for observation and investigations. Douglass Jorgensen, a senior special agent with KBI, says the agency has primarily used the system for drug-related investigations. The 96-sworn-member strong agency recently acquired more than a dozen unmanned, portable XOA Series systems, which produce video with high-evidentiary value; save time and money associated with court costs; and reduce labor expense.

Freeing up manpower

     Video surveillance technology frees up investigators for field assignments, rather than tying them to the surveillance site for long stretches of time. This is especially valuable for sustained video surveillance, when it may be necessary for equipment to be installed for days or even weeks. In sustained surveillance situations, wages and overtime for staffing the surveillance job can quickly accumulate.

     "Surveillance might run four to five days to a month or more," Jorgensen, a 26-year KBI veteran, says. "Even for a short duration, there is significant cost savings [with a video surveillance system]."

     Typical surveillance — without video — of an outdoor marijuana grow field requires at least two people, sunrise to sunset, seven days a week. With video, however, four agents work as a team to install equipment, then visit the site twice a week to check video, adjust settings and replace batteries as needed, Jorgensen says. For example:

  • Manned surveillance: Two agents working seven days a week, 15-16 hours per day — 210 to 224 hours. If those agents work 40-hour work weeks, the total overtime for the seven-day surveillance equals 130 to 224 hours.
  • Video surveillance: A four-agent team visits the site twice a week for 4 hours a day — 32 hours.

     By utilizing digital video surveillance, KBI is able to let the technology observe the field. The savings add up.

     "You still go out every few days to check the equipment and batteries, retrieve media from the cameras and do a preliminary review of the video," Jorgensen says. "We generally take at least four people, for safety and security reasons."

     Though the installation and operation of a video surveillance system does require personnel, it's a fraction of the time and cost compared to a completely manned operation.

Rugged equipment

     Outdoor surveillance such as KBI's marijuana field and other drug-related activity requires equipment designed to withstand harsh settings and rough handling. With multiple camera systems and a variety of features available, operators can configure the components to match the scene and objectives. And because XOA does not rely on infrared sensors, it can be installed away from the scene, maintaining covert operations and improving officer safety.

     These features attracted KBI to XOA's predecessor, the LAN-MINE system, when it was released in 1996. The agency has since upgraded to XOA's advanced digital imaging technology and expanded features.

     Other law enforcement agencies across the country also recognize the value of the XOA system: It was the second-most requested product of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Commercial Equipment Direct Assistance Program (CEDAP) in 2007. Thanks to CEDAP, 366 local, state and other emergency response agencies received XOA systems equipped with four cameras as part of $33.7 million in direct assistance to enhance local response capabilities.

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