It just takes a walk through the exhibit hall at any security convention to see the technological advances and growth of video monitoring technology. From thermal imaging and panoramic technology to enterprise surveillance systems, video monitoring becomes more and more sophisticated every year. Today’s systems incorporate “smart” cameras, boast internal storage and embedded analytics, and can stream to virtually any mobile device.

These advances, along with the estimated cost savings when compared with contracting security officers, have made remote video monitoring a popular security option at retail centers, apartment complexes, industrial settings and other locations. Surely it is less expensive, after the initial investment, than having security officers patrolling a property. Video also can be particularly effective after hours to capture images of criminal activity and even help solve a crime.

However, anyone deploying video surveillance in lieu of a team of trained and specialized security officers might be putting themselves, their business and potentially their employees at risk. Security officers and owners of the contracting organization need to discuss whether video alone is as effective a deterrent to crime as actual security officers. In many cases, security officers – or a hybrid approach combining video and guards – can serve as a more effective deterrent.  

Understanding the Risks

Finding the most effective solution begins by evaluating potential criminal threats, analyzing the property being protected and determining potential risks that remote monitoring may pose. Among those risks are the limitations built into a video-only security policy.

For example, response time when video detects criminal activity can be slower than when a security officer is present, especially when monitoring takes place at a remote location. And people must still monitor real-time surveillance video, leaving human error as a possibility.

In many scenarios, cameras are less likely to deter criminals when compared with a professional security officer patrolling the grounds. Thieves will think twice about targeting a business that has uniformed protection. Plus, professional officers are trained to look for suspicious activity on the spot. They can assess a situation and react to security breaches. Of course, the advantages of using security officers are greatest when they are licensed and specifically trained for the risks involved in a given industry.

Another clear risk in using video monitoring is equipment malfunction. There have been some well-publicized cases of system malfunctions over the last several years, from broken cameras on a municipal bus in California and in a Missouri high school to a Newark Airport breach where the camera only provided live streaming, rather than recording the events. It is therefore important to have all equipment reviewed on a regular basis to make sure it is performing as intended.

When video is used for live monitoring, it is also important to consider that video systems cannot see every nook and cranny in the same way as a officer patrolling a property. Unless a company invests heavily in top-of-the-line equipment, blind spots are a fact of life.

These disadvantages can have serious results. In one instance several years ago, a firm was hired to provide video monitoring for a large metropolitan apartment complex. The officer firm believed that video monitoring was not sufficient and a physical presence should also be utilized. However, the property owner’s budget did not allow it. Several months into the contract, a young child wandered out of sight of the playground cameras to play on a security gate that did not have a camera monitoring it at the time. The child was seriously injured, which resulted in a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the security firm and property owner.


Sorting Out Claims

These types of claims can be difficult to sort out. In most cases, a security officer firm will monitor what the video captures, even if a third-party contractor installs the equipment. So if criminal activity happens in a camera’s blind spot or there is an equipment malfunction, for example, the contract between the property owner and the security officer firm will determine who is held liable.

Enterprise security executives and others purchasing video surveillance equipment and contracting with a guard firm need to be aware of any technological limitations and risks. At the same time, if the guard firm has recommended that officers be used, these recommendations need to be in the contract in order to protect the guard firm from potential liability later. The contract should clearly state any areas video surveillance cannot see. Post orders must also clearly outline their duties so they are not held liable for a video malfunction.

These contracts and post orders will be part of the discovery process involving any claim, so both the security guard firm and whoever contracts them should clearly review risks and responsibilities.

In addition, security officer and video surveillance firms can further protect themselves with “liquidated damages” and “third party indemnity” language included in the contract.   

A liquidated damages clause or a “limitation of liability” clause is an important part of any alarm/security system monitoring contract.  These clauses limit the security firm’s maximum liability regardless of the cause of the loss and/or whether there was negligence on the security company’s part.

A third-party indemnity clause requires the security company’s customer to indemnify and hold them harmless from any claim against the security company by any other party.  This prevents the security company from being liable to parties they are not contracted with (i.e., the client’s customers, deliverymen, etc.).

These are common clauses in monitoring agreements, but their effectiveness depends upon state law and should be discussed with local legal counsel.           


Making the Right Choice

            Clearly, technology keeps improving and the effectiveness of video surveillance is connected to the cost and sophistication of the equipment. But when deciding whether to use security officers or video surveillance, certain facts should be considered:

  • Officers are usually more effective for live events, special events, schools during school hours, retail facilities while they are open and wherever the threat of bodily injury is a concern. They have the unique ability to patrol every square inch of a facility and react quickly, whether it is stopping a crime as it happens or reporting it quickly to the authorities. In fact, some ask their officers to perform only “observe and report” functions, a choice that can lower the cost of the guard firm, as well as the guard firm’s liability.
  • Video surveillance, on the other hand, is a good fit for preventing theft after hours, when theft and vandalism – not bodily harm – are the major causes of concern. They are used effectively to monitor parking lots and large industrial facilities. For some, video is important to use for later playback and review, as a “forensic” tool that allows the user to see what happened after the fact.

            Often the right choice is a hybrid approach: Using security officers during hours where you want to prevent bodily injury, while utilizing video after hours when the threat is theft and vandalism. By combining the two tactics, many enterprise security executives can accomplish their overall goal of safety, loss prevention and, when there is a loss, recording important facts that help a criminal investigation and prosecute criminals.

            To accomplish these goals, the contracting organization and the security officer firm need to discuss the risks, clearly delineate responsibilities in post orders and contracts and, together, arrive at the best security solution.