An Ohio-based surveillance technology company is pioneering a “live Google Earth” that would allow cops to monitor crimes in real time.
The wide-area surveillance system was first used in Compton, C.A. last year when a spate of necklace-snatchings led sheriff’s deputies to Persistent Surveillance Systems, a company owned by retired Air Force veteran Ross McNutt.
The Center For Investigative Reporting describes it as Google Earth with rewind—a city captured down to its last detail, and available for zooming and tracking.
“We literally watched all of Compton during the time that we were flying, so we could zoom in anywhere within the city of Compton and follow cars and see people,” McNutt said. “Our goal was to basically jump to where reported crimes occurred and see what information we could generate that would help investigators solve the crimes.”
McNutt first developed the surveillance technology to search out bombing suspects in Iraq and Afghanistan. The wide-area surveillance relies on high-powered surveillance cameras attached in clusters to small civilian aircrafts.
“Our whole system costs less than the price of a single police helicopter and costs less for an hour to operate than a police helicopter,” McNutt said. “But at the same time, it watches 10,000 times the area that a police helicopter could watch.”
The CIR reports that McNutt’s technology is one of many digital innovations that give law enforcement Hollywood-like capabilities, like mobile facial-recognition technology.
With that comes a host of ethical and constitutional dilemmas. For example, the FBI has been compiling a data complex of over 147 million mug shots and fingerprints—many of which belong to people who have never committed crimes. Soon that database will become searchable.
In the case of the necklace-snatchers, Los Angeles law enforcement realized that its monitoring might not go over well on the public.
“The system was kind of kept confidential from everybody in the public,” said L.A. County sheriff’s Sgt. Doug Iketani. “A lot of people do have a problem with the eye in the sky, the Big Brother, so in order to mitigate any of those kinds of complaints, we basically kept it pretty hush-hush.”
And in fact, the suspects ended up fleeing from the camera’s view before they were identified. Iketani said the technology led to useful leads, but that the pictures weren’t detailed enough to land a suspect.