Modern Imaging Technology – The eyes have it…..

David McIntosh, a leading expert in imaging intelligence looks at the
potential for police use of the technology to help officers obtain more
accurate, fast and reliable data in the fight against crime.

Jul 12, 2007
By David McIntosh
Sergeant Matiu Ratana

Cost pressures:
A theme running through the strategic plans and priorities of all the UK’s police forces is the need to be ever more effective and efficient. Along with all the other stresses and strains on hard-pressed police officers and staff, the pressure to improve cost effectiveness is ever-present.  It only seems to get greater as time goes by.

Emphasis on technology:
All UK police forces have the same challenge. In line with the priorities set by the Home Office and also because of the natural constraints of every-day life, most services are facing up to the challenge with an increasingly strong emphasis on technology. With often more than 80 per cent of force expenditure attributable to officer and staff costs, it is extremely hard to see how it could be otherwise. Forces are naturally looking to technology to help solve what might otherwise be an impossible cost conundrum.

Genuine savings of any significance are most likely to be possible only from advanced systems and equipment that save human time and effort; putting more effective policing tools into the hands of those on whom the rest of us depend for our safety, security and peace of mind.

If we can provide them with better tools, we can free them up to concentrate on the things they do best. To a great extent it’s about reducing unnecessary tasks and giving the police the best possible information on which to base their decisions and actions, as fast and efficiently as possible.

Image information – extending the long arm of the Law:
One aspect of this that is already making a significant impact, but where new technology now offers real hope of a step-change in further improvement, is the quality and speed of information available from images.

The Metropolitan Police Service has highlighted improving information quality as one of its top priorities for 2006/2007 (MPA/MPS joint strategic plan). Improved use of image information from CCTV has been a part of that; including the award-winning “Operation Bus Tag” and other initiatives. These and a host of other programmes in forces all over the UK have one thing in common – they have been designed to extend the long arm of the law and give more power to its elbow.

Much of the potential information comes from CCTV cameras, but also from other sources, whether they are in the street or the custody suite; whether from manned airborne cameras, heat sensors, or equipment on unmanned aerial vehicles; in fact any source of information that comes in image form.

Turning image data into image information:
Mostly, of course, this stuff isn’t information at all when first gathered. Usually it’s raw image data, unassisted by supplementary tags or labels (meta-data) and therefore meaningless until viewed by a human operator. The combination of the raw images and the human eye and mind is what currently turns data into real usable information; and therein lies the key problem – it takes far too much manpower and far too much time to get the job done. Police forces do not have an abundance of either of these resources.

The mass of data that lies hidden in the hundreds of hours of CCTV footage that may be relevant to an incident like the Haymarket and Glasgow bombings, is potentially very valuable but practically useless until the necessary manpower resources are devoted to it; and the time needed has been spent.

This being so, police officers and staff need new solutions, enabled by new technology, in order to make sense of the data they’ve already got, and the ever-increasing volume that’s accumulating – to turn it quickly into useful information on which to base decisions and follow-up action.

Saving valuable police time:
As an example, in a statement issued after the recent car-bombing attempt in London’s Haymarket, the Met described “pa

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