Term Paper: Tracking and Surveillance

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Tracking and Surveillance

Watch Closely: Tracking and Surveillance in Law Enforcement

Tracking and surveillance are essential components for the completion of law enforcement, particularly in today's society where the advent of technology has made criminal enterprises more discreet than ever. Consequently, the relationship of these two practices must be examined to fully understand the nature of their use in law enforcement. Tracking, which can be either covert or overt, is the pursuit of a particular object or person, and forms an essential element of surveillance, which is commonly defined as the sustained observation of a single or group of offenders (either alleged or in fact), or of a location. Surveillance may be employed without tracking, but tracking is always an indelible part of surveillance measures. Modern day law enforcement is adept at the deployment of both of these practices, which many deem integral to the peaceful maintenance of a state system.

The two forms of surveillance which law enforcement officials utilize are either passive or active. Passive surveillance is almost always a covert form of observation in which suspects are unaware of the vigilance of officers of the law. Interactive surveillance can be covert as well (such as when a plainclothes or undercover policeman is used to elicit information) as overt, as is the case when legal authorities question a suspect or raid a location. The nature of these variations of surveillance hinges on two fairly important legal definitions which permit surveillance to take place and to be upheld in court. The first premise is that anything done in the public sphere may be surveyed without an order of the court, while the second, the Plain Sight Doctrine, mandates that anything visible within reason from a street level perspective may be open to surveillance without a warrant. Surveillance that fails to meet these two criteria requires legal permission from a source of authority such as a police station or a court of law.

The legality of the various methods and procedures of surveillance and tracking is a recurring factor in their enforcement, particularly for tracking. As previously stated, all forms of tracking encompass methods of surveillance (such as the tracking vehicles), which are employed in criminal investigations by three disparate means. The first method involves an automatic vehicle locator, which may be accessed in two ways. In the first, the consumer installs the vehicle locator which activates its alert system in case of theft. The vendor that supports the locator then contacts the authorities with the location of the vehicle, which the latter then apprehends. Other vehicle locators involve the usage of law enforcement officials more directly by linking vehicle locators to appropriate police vehicles. Theft triggers the activations of the locator within the police unit, which is the then used to recover the vehicle without the aid of an outside vendor.

The second method of tracking a vehicle as part of a criminal investigation occurs when law enforcement officials attach a tracking device to the vehicle of a suspect. This method is extremely covert and typically requires the installation of the vehicle locator on the undercarriage of the suspect's transportation. In order for this procedure to be lawful, the vehicle must be parked on a public street; otherwise any evidence gained from this method is inadmissible in court. A search warrant, however, is not required if the craft is publicly parked. Conversely, the placement of the locator within the vehicle will always require a warrant, since someone's private property is being trespassed upon without it. Lastly, the third method of tracking a vehicle involves law enforcement authorities following the vehicle in person. This method may be either covert or overt, depending on the specific circumstances involved.

The surveillance methods for assigning various traffic violations have become increasingly sophisticated within the last several years. Whereas previously authorities could only monitor such activities within their range of vision, radar and electronic surveillance have become increasingly commonplace in today's society. These surveillance measures, which are nearly always overt since there is usually adequate signage and highly visible camera structures denoting their presence at intersections, have become typified by the photographic red light, which employs a sophisticated system of sensors and cameras to monitor transgression of this fundamental traffic law. Sensors have been placed at various stop lights throughout the country (which are commonly located beneath the street's surface), in alignment with traffic signals so that anyone entering an intersection after a light flashes red is monitored via photograph. The signage of these systems allows for the legality of these visual recordings, which are captured on either 35 millimeter film, or by digital camera. Video cameras, which deliver real-time transmission of images, are also deployed for this purpose.

Other uses of video for tracking and surveillance in law enforcement include that of police in-car video, which allows officers to document an event visually by the means of video recording. Despite the highly covert nature of this surveillance method, there are several limitations which circumscribe both its effectiveness and employment. Video monitoring must be performed with cameras continuously recording through any condition (including potential weather complications), which may be physically taxing for those assigned to review it. Other issues can compromise the effectiveness of the video monitoring such as questions as to what may be deemed worthy of recording, or when and how long the video monitoring should take place. Logistical issues also form around the recordings themselves, which need to be stored in an orderly, easily accessible manner. Other factors to consider include the duration of the video tapes, which are analog as contrasted with the digital video discs (DVDs) that most modern video media utilizes. A possible answer may be the use of digital video cassettes (DVCs), which are more compact yet can contain more information than the previous options. But even DVCs pose potential storage and record-keeping problems that must be considered as well.

Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) is another frequently issued application of video surveillance utilized by law enforcement officials and others. These noncommercial video recordings are broadcast on a private network, such as those employed in gas stations or in convenience stores. Closed Circuit Television is used for both covert and overt surveillance, the former of which may include photographic traffic enforcement and the monitoring of public places, while the latter may be used by law enforcement officials as part of in-car camera systems. This television system is primarily used for investigative purposes as well as for documentation of evidence, which is often used as visual confirmation of an alleged crime. CCTV can be pre-emptive as well, as proper signage of its presence may dissuade offenders of criminal activity. Other uses of video surveillance evidence besides CCTV include the video documentation of ATM machines, post offices, and parking lots.

Another visual method of tracking and surveillance employed in law enforcement requires one of the myriad applications of light and its absence: night vision. The two common varieties of night vision are known as light amplification and thermal imaging. Light amplification provides for nocturnal surveillance by taking tiny quantities of light in a particular location and transmitting protons to electrons, which are then diverted into disk channels. These channels allow the electrons to move more frenetically than before and to release greater amounts of energy, which enables them to yield more light with which to see during nocturnal conditions. Thermal imaging, on the other hand, allows for night vision by a process in which imagers direct body heat towards light detectors, which use the body heat to render a pattern known as a thermogram. The imager is able to replicate an image based on this electrical data, which may be seen in the absence of a sufficient light source.

Uses of audio devices in tracking and surveillance include the tracking… [END OF PREVIEW]

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