Purchasing and Concealing Trail Cameras October 11, 2017


Early on when trail cameras were first developed, law enforcement quickly recognized the benefits to field surveillance and employed them. Unfortunately, though, many agencies learned the hard way that a hunting camera comes close, but it's not quite suited for law enforcement field operations. Over the years, I’ve had countless agencies report repeated losses of cameras from the criminal targets finding and destroying them. Regardless of where you intend to purchase a field surveillance camera, here are things to look and things to consider when deploying them to the field.

Get Rid of the Glow
The number one reason field surveillance cameras are detected by criminals is the IR illumination is too close to the visible spectrum. Most trail cameras are designed for hunting, and in order to achieve the maximum illumination range and gain an edge over the competition, manufacturers typically will use either IR leds with a 840nm or 880nm frequency. Both 840nm and 880nm still produce enough visible light that criminal targets can readily see the light source in the form of glowing red dots. In contrast, field surveillance cameras using 940nm infrared illuminators are completely invisible to the human eye but very visible to the camera itself.

When dealing with the savviest of bad guys, even using 940nm illumination there is still a vulnerability. Clever criminals are using their smartphone cameras to scan areas for cameras, and although smartphone cameras can’t pick up 940nm light very well…it’s enough for them to spot cameras. With this in mind, when field surveillance missions do not require low light images….you should consider turning off and/or covering the infrared led array.

RF Detection
Most field surveillance cameras designed for law enforcement investigations utilize GSM a.k.a cellular radios to transmit live images. According to cooperating informants, bad guys are able to detect some of the cameras by using cheap FRS/GMRS two way radios. Details provided indicate that when some of these cameras are triggered, they emit a brief radio signal that matches the frequency of the FRS/GMRS radios. So word to the wise, prior to purchasing a field surveillance camera ask your vendor whether or not the camera is immune from this issue.

When possible, place field surveillance cameras up higher. People in general and especially in today’s day-and-age, don’t look up, providing you with some natural concealment. Additionally, some opportunistic criminals will avoid the hassle of climbing a tree or object. However, when placing the field surveillance camera…be sure to consider that the higher you go, you will lose details about the subjects. In some cases, it’s best to risk keeping the camera low and head-on.

Breakup The Pattern
Old military doctrine teaches that proper camouflage, especially those of manmade origin…need the pattern broken. Field surveillance cameras are no exception. Even cameras that painted OD green or camo definitely do better, but those hard lines make them easy to spot in the woods. If possible, completely cover the camera save the sensors and lens with material near-and-dear to the placement. In the case of trees, old tree bark works wonderfully and in other cases, it might be dirt, rocks or even sticks. Granted in urban environments, you might want to consider using trash such as a discarded 12 pack box.

Another area of concern when concealing field surveillance cameras is lens reflection. Military forces around the world are all too familiar with this issue and as a result, they use a honeycomb type mesh material on the lens to help minimize glare. Field surveillance cameras suffer from very same issues that the military experiences. To keep it simple and not reinvent the wheel, do the same and grab some honeycomb mesh material to put over lenses.

Don’t Disturb The Scene
This seems like an obvious given, but unfortunately, it’s not. In many cases, bad guys are getting alerted to field surveillance activities by simple watching law enforcement and seeing changes to the area of concern. Today there is a super easy solution for this issue…let the machine do the work! Be sure and purchase a field surveillance camera with remote features that allow you to manage evidence and the camera remotely. For instance, cameras like the TAC940 will send picture alerts to smartphones and email addresses. So pretty much there is little need to go onsite until you have the evidence required or to refresh the batteries.

On the note of batteries, you should also investigate the option of powering the cameras via a solar panel. Some field surveillance cameras can run almost indefinitely on solar panels that are the size of a smartphone, making them easy to conceal. If you do opt to go strictly on batteries, I personally prefer alkaline type batteries as they are the most stable under a variety of weather conditions. Most rechargeable batteries tend to self-discharge in either extreme temperatures.

Do More, Keep it Affordable
Lastly, when making a purchase on trail cameras...keep in mind, spending north of $600 per camera is not always the best idea.  Take a look around, you may find that cameras for a little more than half that amount will do the same and more in some cases.  Additionally, with lower cost field surveillance cameras it allows you to deploy more cameras on scene and exponentially increasing the odds of evidence capture.   

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Thanks for reading. Please feel free to contact with additional questions, comments, and suggestions.

Best regards,

Jake Lahmann

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