Retail Crime - Keeping an Eye on the Insider Threat

Tim Compston, Features Editor at Security News Desk and, talks to Jeff Whitney, VP Marketing, at Arecont Vision about how the latest video surveillance cameras are helping retailers to pick-up on the underhand activity of the criminals within.

Speaking to Jeff Whitney at Arecont Vision for his take on the issue of dishonest staff, and where video surveillance cameras can make a difference, he replies that retailers of all sizes, and types, have long sought to deter theft, and reduce inventory slippage, through the use of surveillance cameras: "Unfortunately, the resolution and image quality of analog cameras limited the value of the images captured, and the cost of cabling, and the cameras, how many would be deployed, leaving large areas inadequately covered in the retail environment. PTZ (pan-tilt-zoom) cameras helped to alleviate that coverage discrepancy but were typically pointed in the wrong direction much of the time to capture important details," explains Whitney.

Higher definition

Fast-forwarding to the situation now, for Whitney megapixel camera technology has been the real game-changer: "Megapixel cameras offer High Definition (HD) video that can be used for live viewing, or as forensic viewing after the fact, with outstanding clarity when compared with their legacy analog counterparts." Drilling down into specific model developments to illustrate his point, Whitney is keen to single out the capabilities of what he refers to as 'feature-rich multi-sensor megapixel cameras' like the Arecont Vision SurroundVideo panoramics: "We introduced these to the industry back in 2006 and they are now in their fifth generation. When deployed in place of PTZs recording can be 24x7 and they can always be looking in the right direction."

In use performance

When it comes to selecting the right camera, Whitney warns that for retailers, like other users, it is important to look beyond just specification sheets to ensure that they unlock the performance they need in-store: "Spec sheets can’t really compare the differences between a camera with a poor optics package and limited features and a camera with high-quality optics and features built on generations of experience. The only way to see the difference is to see the cameras side-by-side when the quality of the camera and lens will immediately become apparent, especially when zooming in on a recorded image to read name tags or labels."

Challenging dishonesty and collusion

Moving on to the question of whether dealing with staff crime is more problematic because of the  suspect's 'insider' knowledge, Whitney agrees that stock shrinkage, especially “sweet-hearting” at the Point of Sale (POS) - where the employee works in conjunction with one or more others in theft - is always a challenge: "One common example is for a cashier to fail to enter all of the expensive items passed to them by their partner or to enter false bar codes or prices to identify expensive items as cheap ones." Regarding ways to clamp down on such underhand behaviour, Whitney reckons that a high-quality megapixel camera positioned over the Point of Sale [POS] terminal is well placed to capture this type of activity and when combined with a VMS, with an analytics package, can, potentially, highlight suspicious activity without an operator's intervention.

Beyond this, in other cases, Whitney feels that insiders simply underestimate what today's cameras can actually pick-up on: "They may be totally unaware of the 8MP quality of 30 frames per second 4K camera like our MegaDome 4K camera. With high-speed capture of extremely detailed images, faces, name tags, product labels, and more can be captured with even rapid handling not being able to hide from the camera.

Overt or covert

Often the type of camera deployed, says Whitney, has to reflect the retail environment the store owners are seeking to create: "Retail surveillance comes in two general areas that I think of as: overt/visible and covert/subtle. In the first case, the cameras are highly visible, mounted on walls and ceilings and stand-alone or in dome enclosures. The intent is to scare those thinking of committing a crime – either by an employee or a customer – such as theft, or fake slip-and-falls for workers compensation or litigation."

Whitney goes on to explain that covert video surveillance tends to come into the mix more where, typically, high-end retailers do not wish to portray their environment as one under strict surveillance: "The cameras are often as low profile as possible, which is the case with our SurroundVideo Omni G2 cameras.  This camera has four sensors that can be positioned to look in four different directions, or cover the range of 180 - 270 - 360 degrees, and in between, yet is so small and low profile that at first glance it can be confused by the viewer as light or perhaps a smoke detector."

In other situations, Whitney reflects that it may make more sense for only the camera lens and a small bubble to be visible: “That is the case with our newly released MegaVideo Flex camera series. Flex can be mounted in a ceiling, a wall, inside the equipment and hidden behind a sheet of glass, or in other tight spaces. The sensor and main unit can be separated by up to 40’/12m using a standard USB cable. Flex enables the retailer to put surveillance easily in areas where overt cameras would be detrimental to the environment."

Caught on camera 

Rounding off our discussion, Whitney is keen to reiterate the power of the right video surveillance cameras to tackle insider theft, pointing out that in many instances - where perpetrators have been caught - they either ignored the cameras or assumed that the associated video would not capture what they were doing: "In these cases they were wrong!"