Leveraging intelligence for surveillance

Issue 6 2021 Editor's Choice, CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring

I’ve emphasised the need for intelligence-driven CCTV surveillance for a number of years and had the good fortune some years ago to train in the area together with Jeff Corkill, an intelligence specialist, lecturer and researcher at Edith Cowan University in Australia.

Since then, the sophistication of CCTV systems has advanced significantly in their capabilities and levels of sophistication. Intelligence gathering, use of ‘big data’, and data synthesis and AI prediction have also made huge gains in capabilities. Much of this big data is used by major companies for marketing or political purposes, or for evaluating social trends.

Use of access to social media and open-source information by organisations of all kinds has also exploded, although it is often used for the checking of people as part of an acceptance process, or for investigation purposes in response to an incident of some kind. However, only in some organisations has social media monitoring become a specialised and fundamental part of intelligence capacity for threat detection and the safeguarding of customers, visitors, prominent people and critical infrastructure – as I discuss in the article www.securitysa.com/9502a.

From my perspective, however, the technical developments in CCTV and those in intelligence capacity have occurred in parallel, rather than seizing the opportunities to complement and enhance the capabilities of both CCTV surveillance and intelligence gathering to gain strategic and operational insights. I still see few organisations that have an intelligence analyst within a security department, where this person can provide information to surveillance as part of a strategic function.

A move to electronic occurrence books which assist in data analysis is becoming more common, but this is often still simplistic in its analysis capabilities. A few more instances of the creation of more dedicated incident databases are occurring, or more impressively, where all reporting goes through a management software interface that provides a structured approach to entering observation and incident information. The capacity of control room management systems or VMS installations has seen a huge increase in the potential for sophisticated reporting if used effectively. However, use of this kind of data for intelligence analysis is probably underutilised despite its availability.

Relevance and quality

Use of CCTV or control room occurrence books or management systems more broadly still suffers from an issue in the quality and relevance of data recorded and suitability for internal intelligence analysis. Often the data that should be entered, the format of data, fields and classifications and terms used are inconsistent and make effective retrieval and accurate analysis of relevant data very difficult.

What should be part of an intelligence database is overloaded with irrelevant, trivial or superfluous data that can hinder use of data interrogation criteria and mask usable information. Further, the determination of what is recorded and whether a suitably qualified person is responsible for entering and managing data is a critical success factor. Both the setup and data entry need to be done on a professional basis to ensure that data analysis is not hamstrung by data that is obscured or diluted by content that limits functionality of access and quality reporting.

Standard security information should be separated from target and intelligence data, a trained data analyst with a security or intelligence background should define the database requirements and management of confidential information should be built into the system. Ultimately, the data must be accessible, usable, worthwhile and confidential. There are several high-end intelligence software systems that can be used, but even more basic databases with the right definition and structure, along with a good reporting facility, can be extremely useful.


I’ve emphasised in the past that intelligence-led surveillance means an interactive process between surveillance personnel and the intelligence generation and analysis process – see the article on Intelligence-led surveillance (www.securitysa.com/*DrD1). CCTV operators responsible for live viewing, who are properly informed about key issues through intelligence, become more aware of questions they must be able to answer and start looking far more critically at what they are seeing on screen. Whether identifying a person, group or vehicle of interest, highlighting risk conditions, or predictive likelihood of something happening in a certain space or time, intelligence makes for a more active viewing process and enhances targeted surveillance.

At the same time, surveillance operators are prime sources of information to be used for intelligence analysis. In my CCTV surveillance and behavioural analysis training, I emphasise the need for detection of incidents as the ultimate measure of effective performance. However, operators during their observations may pick up a number of indicators that show concerns about the intention of people in an area and a range of suspicious behaviours. Where these are picked up repeatedly or independently by other operators, they start to highlight people of concern. I emphasise in my training that by reporting these kinds of issues, operators show they are actively looking and demonstrating that they are doing their jobs and indeed are contributing to intelligence profiling. In a sense, they are identifying the ‘near misses’ as well as the actual incidents.

Yet, often there are no ways in which these often perceptive observations of suspicious behaviour are recorded or systematically used as part of a performance management or an intelligence system. Capturing of information of activities and profiling of suspects from CCTV observations have fallen way short of the potential of these kinds of observations. We are still in a largely immediate-response or even reactive mode with many CCTV systems.

Integrated intelligence strategy

Interfacing internal reporting systems which are used for intelligence analysis with outside data is also a key part of having an integrated intelligence strategy. This can be with outside databases like automatic number plate recognition sources and crime alerts, informer networks, watch lists like in aviation and social media findings on things like Facebook and WhatsApp. These may be important elements in establishing risk levels and priority setting on individuals, groups or known syndicates who need to be closely observed.

We have recently seen how environmental intelligence is becoming an increasingly important component to effective security in areas of disrupted communities and political agitation. Like social media monitoring, it is likely that private companies are going to fill the gap in providing information about dynamics and likelihood of conflict or violence that may affect organisational members or assets, from national to local levels. Online security support groups are already a major source of current information to fill in gaps in state functions. This is particularly the case given the vacuum in law enforcement presence and the shortfalls on official policing capacity to anticipate and act on potential issues.

Intelligence-led surveillance

Intelligence is being increasingly seen as a critical part of designing effective crime fighting strategies. Its application in providing a better perspective of crime dynamics and patterns allows you to adjust your security and surveillance strategy accordingly – with huge advantages I point out in the article on Leveraging intelligence information for surveillance (www.securitysa.com/*DrD2).

Yet intelligence-led CCTV surveillance has fallen short of its potential over the last 15 years. Crime groups are getting more sophisticated and there are increased levels of public threat from a range of sources that represent potential danger to the personnel, assets and operations of organisations and the public more broadly. By providing intelligence on crime dynamics, including criminal resources, networks, channels and profiles of people and vehicles of interest, as well as predictive analytics about where and how crime is likely to occur, we can align CCTV surveillance systems in a far more productive manner which allows preventive action, or more rapid and informed responses to threats and challenges that organisations are likely to be faced with.

About Dr Craig Donald

Dr Craig Donald

Dr Craig Donald is a human factors specialist in security and CCTV. He is a director of Leaderware which provides instruments for the selection of CCTV operators, X-ray screeners and other security personnel in major operations around the world. He also runs CCTV Surveillance Skills and Body Language, and Advanced Surveillance Body Language courses for CCTV operators, supervisors and managers internationally, and consults on CCTV management. He can be contacted on +27 11 787 7811 or [email protected]


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