Barry Levine is CEO of San Diego-based Sperry West, maker of
Spyder® video cameras and Video Commander® surveillance
kits. Levine has been leading video security companies for 40
years. He can be contacted at (858) 551-2000 or

By Barry Levine

Crimes connected with government, business or institutional
facilities can be difficult to solve, as they are often committed by
people who are familiar with the facility and who are reasonably
knowledgeable about the preventative systems in place.

We know that video cameras often deter crime, but coverage rarely
is sufficient to prevent insiders from knowing where it is unlikely
that they will be caught committing crimes.

Theft and vandalism are frequent problems in most large
organizations. This and other criminal activity can often quickly
be solved through the use of covert video.

Covert cameras placed in areas where it is known that crimes have
occurred, often catch the perpetrator within one or two weeks.

Covert must be separated from the “normal” camera systems, as
most security departments do not have a “need to know”.
Sometimes a security person is the cause of the problem. It does
not matter whether the existing video system is IP or analog, covert
is different and generally should not be made  part of
“protective” systems.

A covert kit, specifically designed for quick deployment and ease of use, is the best way for any business, hospital or institution to be prepared to act as soon as any illegal activity is uncovered. Kits such as Sperry West’s “Video Commander” are equipped with several covert wireless cameras and record to a DVR inside of a closed case. The case can be several hundred feet away in another room.

Examples of actual crimes solved with this covert surveillance kit include: A pharmacist in a hospital, stealing pain medication and replacing it with lactose. An aerospace manufacturer consistently losing copper caught the government inspector stealing the copper.

An insurance company was sure about who was stealing petty cash and small items. The thefts were first noticed right after a new person was hired. Surveillance was set up and recorded someone else stealing. The surveillance actually saved the new employee who had done nothing wrong.

A national security company was asked by a client to set up a “sting” with a covert surveillance, as they were regularly hearing complaints of petty theft. The results recorded thefts by a guard employed by that same security company.

A large government contractor recorded an employee accessing a locked and secure file cabinet and stealing proprietary information.

Many retail organizations regularly catch employees stealing and are finding that the employee theft problem is even larger then shoplifting.

What experienced security directors and investigators know is that they must be prepared to deploy covert surveillance quickly and that it has no relation to their other video systems.

A few suggestions:

  1. “Need to know” applies to covert more than other systems. Most people love to share “secrets”, as it feeds their ego. This can destroy the effectiveness of your surveillance.
  2. When setting up surveillance, think like the person or people you expect to catch. What will they do, what will they see and what camera location will achieve the best evidence?
  3. Check the DVR program with each surveillance to be certain of recording at the highest quality possible. If a long time surveillance occurs, check periodically to make sure the hard drive has sufficient recording time available.
  4. Be certain to use reasonably high resolution cameras which will allow for a clear image(s), as well as the specific act you are recording.
  5. Test carefully. Actually simulate the occurrence you expect, record it and playback to be certain you have achieved results that will provide clear and sufficient evidence.
  6. The most common mistake is to try to include too much in one picture. When setting up the camera, it is important to recognize faces and details; a wide angle in a very large area may look nice but will rarely produce sufficient recognition of an individual.
  7. Most often, you cannot control the lighting in your surveillance area but careful camera placement can help with identification. Try to place the camera where it is not looking directly at the light, so the light should fall between your subject and the camera specifically, not behind the subject.
  8. While covert video systems are generally legal, it is against federal law to include audio within covert cameras (public law enforcement is an exception). Consult with your legal department or legal counselor. An excellent rule to follow is that if there would be an expectation of privacy by individuals normally permitted to be in a specific area then cameras would violate that expectation of privacy and therefore not be legal, unless permission is given by the person or persons normally working in that area.

Barry Levine is CEO of San Diego-based Sperry West, maker of
Spyder® video cameras and Video Commander® surveillance
kits. Levine has been leading video security companies for 40
years. He can be contacted at (858) 551-2000 or

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