What Are Video Surveillance Systems?

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  • Written By: R. Kayne
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2019
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Video surveillance systems monitor activity in public areas, businesses or commercial buildings for real-time or later review. Some systems include sound while others record video only. Video surveillance can also be used inside and outside schools and private residences as an extra measure of security. There are a myriad of different systems with varying levels of sophistication within a wide price range.

A surveillance system can be a powerful deterrent to crime when placed in an obvious location. Liquor stores, quickie marts, gas stations, fast food drive-throughs, banks and automatic teller machines (ATMs) are just a few of the many locations where you might expect to see video surveillance systems. In cases where these systems can’t stop determined criminals from perpetrating crimes, surveillance systems often provide critical evidence for police. In many cases this evidence leads directly to the capture of criminals who might otherwise have gone unapprehended.

Video surveillance systems were installed throughout many schools following the 1999 Columbine tragedy when two students took the lives of 12 classmates and one teacher before fatally shooting themselves. Ironically, Columbine did have video surveillance, and although it could not prevent this disastrous event, it did help to shed light on and provided evidence for the investigation that followed.


Many people opt to have a video surveillance system installed on the front porch. The camera relays video to a computer or monitor inside the home. When someone comes to the door, one can check to see who’s there before responding. This is a great security feature for teens who might be home alone after school, the elderly and single women.

While deterrence is one reason to opt for video surveillance, not all systems are intended to be obvious. In some applications clandestine surveillance is preferred. So-called “nanny-cams” are a type of discreet home surveillance system that can monitor the behavior of babysitters or “nannies” without their knowledge. These inexpensive surveillance systems became popular after the much-publicized 1997 Massachusetts trial of a British au pair convicted of killing a baby in her care by shaking the infant too hard.

Department stores generally use unobtrusive video surveillance to catch shoplifters. Cameras are normally hidden behind darkened ceiling fixtures or small domes. Casinos also use hidden cameras, and in the case of large casinos, the surveillance systems can be quite elaborate. These systems can feed to a central viewing room equipped with several monitors to display a variety of camera locations and angles at once. Operators can use software to switch between spy cam views on each monitor. Cameras are typically placed directly over slot machines banks and gambling tables to spot cheaters or thieves.

It is nearly impossible to overemphasize the vast array of surveillance systems available. There is a system to serve every need, budget and level of sophistication. From cameras small enough to hide in a knickknack, to robust intelligent systems, all it takes is a little shopping. Video surveillance systems are available everywhere security systems or surveillance cameras are sold.


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