Kitting Out: Essential Police Surveillance Equipment

Did you know that policing is the second-largest budget spend after education in the US? As criminals become more sophisticated, this number is likely to increase. But do you know what equipment is essential to a police department?

From facial recognition to radar, we can help. Read on as we discuss the essential items of police surveillance equipment.

Surveillance Cameras

Surveillance cameras are now such a common item of equipment, we often forget they are there. It is hard to go down any street or visit a store without being caught on a multitude of surveillance cameras. While some may argue that it is an invasion of privacy, they do help to keep the streets safer.

Cameras come in a range of types and models. Outdoor cameras are usually the housed, bullet camera type. Indoors, you may find the domed security cameras that affix to the ceiling of a room.

Body Cameras

Body cameras are born by police, to record what happens in their day-to-day activities. While they do not stop crimes or help in preventing them, they are essential for the long-term wellbeing of your force.

This is because they can record the actions of both themselves and the criminals they come into contact with. This puts them in much stronger positions in terms of evidence, accountability and allows a physical record of events.

For example, if a criminal claims they never assaulted a police officer, yet was recorded as doing so, it is unlikely their argument will stand in a court of law. They can be used to support the truthful account of events.


Drones are very powerful items of police video surveillance equipment. They are small, unmanned aircraft often controlled by remote control. As they can hover and often carry live feed cameras, they allow police officers to look at areas from above and even enter properties that may be deemed too dangerous for a person.

Drones can also be equipped with a number of additional devices to aid officers. GPS trackers, infrared sensors, license plate readers, and a wide range of items can make them very adaptable. In some instances, there have even been talks about adding non-lethal weapons to them.

Automated License Plate Readers

Automated License Plate Readers (ALPR) are a variant of the surveillance camera. However, their goal is to read the license plate numbers of passing vehicles. They also record information such as the date, location, and time of movement.

These readers are often placed on street lights, overpasses, and roadside poles. They can be used to determine where a vehicle and its owners have been. Perhaps they may have been in the area of a crime or followed the travel patterns of those known to have been involved in criminal activity.

Thermal Binoculars

Thermal binoculars are a small item, that should be a part of every officer’s kit. Not only do they enhance the line of sight, but they can also allow the officer to see heat patterns created by organisms. This means they can identify suspects in the dark, even when the line of sight is obscured.

Unfortunately, they are still not standard in every officer’s kit. You can learn more about essential equipment for your department here.

Facial Recognition Technology

While still in its infancy, facial recognition technology is one of the more hi-tech police surveillance pieces currently in operation. It can use cameras to perform scans of large groups and crowds in real-time. This can identify potential suspects, dangerous persons, or those banned from certain areas.

This technology has already been used in Europe, to identify potential hooligans attending sports events. However, there are some questions about the efficiency of the technology with some organizations calling for its dismissal.


Stingrays are a new, highly advanced method of police cell phone surveillance equipment. Also known as Cell Tower Simulators, they send out signals that pretend to be a phone tower. When the phone connects to them, the police can take the location and ID number of the phone itself.

In the US, it is estimated that around 75 agencies may be using this technology already. It includes the IRS, FBI, and Customs and Immigration.

Signal Trackers

Trackers are small tags, that can be easily placed on people or objects. The tags give out identifying signals, allowing you to tail the movements of the individual or object, such as a vehicle. However, vehicles tend to require larger devices than smaller ones that would affix to an individual.


The Shotspotter is an ingenious police audio surveillance equipment item. It has sophisticated sensors that can pick up the frequencies of gunshots in a given area. The location information is then sent to a police department that can respond.

Police can get a detailed map from this. It shows the locations, the time of the shots fired, and how many. It can even determine if the same weapon moved as it was firing, or fired in various locations.

Range R

A Range R is a handheld device that lets officers see through walls. Using radio waves, it can see where people are within the building or behind cover. Although it does not provide clear images, it is operable from up to 50 feet away.

Sourcing Police Surveillance Equipment

Some of these police surveillance equipment items are available commercially. However, many of them come from private contracts. If you have a department you are budgeting for then speak with superiors about contractual constraints.

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