Low-Cost Surveillance Cameras?

By , May 14, 2010

What are the options for “low-cost surveillance camera” setups?

Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to identify strategies to deter graffiti vandals.  There are many locations which, once cleaned of graffiti, are consistently re-tagged within a day or two, making the graffiti-cleanup process seem like a never-ending, “no-win” effort.

Of course, graffiti isn’t the only issue.  In my neighborhood, there are several “illegal dumping” locations, in front of vacant state-owned property. Although city staff promptly removes junk & debris on public property when reported, these locations rarely remain clean for more than a day.

The cost to pay city staff to clean up graffiti or pick up trash (many times in a year in each location) is quite high.  And if graffiti isn’t cleaned up, the blight creates a perception of lawlessness, which many studies have shown leads to increased crime, which brings additional expense in addition to the danger to public safety.

One obvious idea is to install surveillance cameras in these locations, to identify and pursue the lawbreakers.  (For the moment, I’d like to defer discussion of the legal, moral, and ethical issues surrounding the use of surveillance cameras. I’ve shared my mixed feelings about the issue, in part, back in October 2001.)

Unfortunately, the cost for a local government (or property owner, neighborhood group, or concerned neighbor) to install and maintain a security camera in any location is quite high, and city officials and police are reluctant to allocate significant resources to these issues (graffiti and debris) because overworked county prosecutors probably won’t take the offenders to court anyway.

My question: What are the options for “low-cost surveillance camera” setups that might be used by a city, a property owner, or by a neighborhood group, to monitor a location? In particular, are there any affordable options for “portable” surveillance equipment that can be moved relatively easily from one location to another?

Here are the “camera” issues I perceive:

  • The camera‘s quality and functionality: image resolution; low-light capabilities; color; focus; zoom capability;
  • “Movement options” for the surveillance setup (e.g. the ability to pan right or left, up or down, and to zoom in or out);
  • Storage options (to store recorded video for later retrieval);
  • Data transfer options (how will recorded video be “downloaded” for viewing: by wireless connection, or using a cable or removable storage);
  • Power options (plug-in, battery, and/or solar);
  • Installation and maintenance issues.

Each of these issues raises some very specific cost considerations, and of course each issue impacts others.  (For example, providing remote wireless access to the unit might require more power.)

Retrieval and “use” of the recorded videos are separate issues to address. I assume that video would only be viewed “after the fact” (for example, when a graffiti tag or dumped trash is observed, the recordings would be used to track back to the time when the crime occurred.)

Another issue is visibility of the surveillance unit. A conspicuous warning or notice might deter criminals (from that location), but might also lead vandals to damage or steal the equipment.

I’d appreciate feedback, either by posting comments or via email (to Mark Welch at Mark Welch dot com).

2 Responses to “Low-Cost Surveillance Cameras?”

  1. markwelch says:

    While taking my walk this morning, I noticed new graffiti (a huge collection of bold red tags) on a wall that’s been cleaned (by city staff) and then re-tagged at least a dozen times in the past three months. That seems like an ideal location to set up surveillance cameras to determine when these taggers work (what time of day or night), and perhaps even who they are, so they could be caught and prosecuted. (The wall is also an ideal candidate for a “graffiti-resistant coating” (while these are quite expensive, they can often be justified by the reduced cleanup costs).

  2. Mark Welch says:

    Alas, I haven’t had a single response to this post, and I still can’t find any viable solutions.

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