Surveillance system uses crowdsourcing to identify retail criminals

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All retailers, even those with very good surveillance cameras, know how difficult it is to find the criminals who plunder their stores. Now more than 20,000 stores — large national chains and small independent retailers — are changing the dynamic, with the help of a system that creates both a real risk and a deterrence for criminals.

Rite Aid, which has been using the Captis I-4 system since 2017, is “closing over 50 percent of our violent crimes within a week, with some cases solved in a couple of days,” says Robert Oberosler, group vice president of loss prevention. In one case, he says, Rite Aid went from “posting a crime to getting a tip to apprehension by law enforcement in just three hours.”

Kroger began using the system last year and “it has definitely impacted us in many ways,” says Quentin Goward, Kroger’s senior corporate manager for business security, organized retail crime and incident response. “It has met all of our expectations, including our ability to use all the functionalities of it and to use it in different parts of our business, safety, social media awareness, situational awareness.”

BRIDGING THE GAP

The I-4 system came out of management’s realization of an unmet need, says Captis Intelligence President Dario Brebric, “a huge gap between surveillance and identification.” That resulted in the first component: solveacrime.com.

“Once you capture a high-resolution image with your million-dollar surveillance system,” Brebric says, “you have this gap of trying to determine who the heck this person is. How do you find out who they are? How do you get them arrested? The police are flooded with surveillance videos every day. They don’t have the time or resources to investigate every video unless it’s really high profile.”

Brebric says solveacrime.com “empowers retailers and others by giving them the ability to upload their incidents into our system. We can blast that video out to a 50-mile radius around the area where the crime occurred as well as to multiple cities surrounding the crime, or even nationwide, and crowdsource it.”

Since many registered users typically share the video with the people they link to via social media, crowdsourced videos will hit “100,000 to 300,000 people in a matter of 48 hours,” he says. “They’ll share it, comment on it and, sooner or later, you get a tip. When retailers offer reward, as most do, you get tips all the time.”

After a case has been resolved through I-4’s program, he says, retailers see a 20 to 60 percent reduction in criminal incidents, usually lasting between four and six months.

In one instance, “a retailer in areas where solveacrime.com was being used had no repeated incidents for the subsequent four months because people in that area, including the criminals, had become aware of solveacrime.com’s effectiveness in identifying suspects.”

Brebric says police reports also show that crime rates at Captis I-4 protected stores are much lower than at non-protected stores in the same neighborhood.

ENHANCING INVESTIGATIONS

Solveacrime.com, the system that Rite Aid was the first to test and then adopt two years ago, is the pillar that supports criminal identification.

Retailers use a centralized info-exchange portal to share information with law enforcement; an upcoming enhancement will allow retailers to share information, not just locally, but internationally with other retailers
and businesses.

Captis I-4 allows for “situational awareness, crime mapping, location-based crime feeds, and it allows us to utilize social media in the identification of suspects that have committed crimes against our assets or our stores,” Goward says.

“It’s that social media-based tool that really allows you to enhance your investigations. It is a deterrent when people know that when they commit a crime, their actions will be visible on social media.”

He’s also used it to share leads for cases that Kroger is working on with law enforcement and with other retailers. And “it is definitely a tool we are looking at to combat organized retail crime.”

Goward says he uses the system weekly; two of his investigators use it daily. “It’s been very effective,” he says, as well as “very easy to adopt and easy to use.”

For I-4’s intelligence feature, Captis collects crime feeds from police departments from cities across the country every 24 to 48 hours. As for the investigation feature, Captis uses what Brebric describes as “deep layer tools” such as social media scanning — the ability to search for keywords anywhere on the open web including Facebook, Twitter, etc. It also scans the dark web, which can find hackers trying to breach systems, sell stolen credit card information and a variety of other things.

There are currently over 15 million registered users in the crowdsourced database nationwide, attracted by the fact that they receive free crime alerts within their neighborhoods as well as rewards for tips that result in apprehensions and convictions.

“The user base is growing daily,” Brebric says. “When combined with the reach through social media, the viewer rate multiples very quickly in any geographic area.”

After retailers upload their surveillance videos to solveacrime.com, Captis account managers combine still images and video content while following a “brand protection” editing guideline which protects the retailer from disclosing sensitive information to the public, such as blotting out the faces of employees and customers and omitting details that could compromise the store such as the location of a safe. The edited video is then reviewed and approved by the retailer before it is sent out to users.

IDENTIFYING THREATS

One of the identification layers of the I-4 system is On Demand Subject Identification. Retailers can upload a surveillance video image of a suspect and have it scanned through a database of over 30 million criminals, Brebric says. “If a match is made, the ID is done.”

If no match is made, the retailer can still send the image and/or video to solveacrime.com to search for a crowdsourced identification.

The Protective Research and Identification layer looks for keywords on social media such as the retailer’s name coupled with threatening words like “gun,” “kill” or “fight.” If a connection is found, the query initiates an alert to the retailer warning them of  potential threats.

That layer can find instances where someone on social media is trying to sell products, including drugs, that could have been stolen from retailers. It can also identify threats to or from employees or customers as well as instances of people trying to meet up for illegal activity in or near a retail store; the system can also identify employees committing internal theft, or posting inappropriate company information on social media.

“It’s a very powerful tool, with a lot of functionalities that we have found very useful,” Goward says. “It’s still new to us, but it has definitely served its purpose.”

As an additional deterrent, Captis will begin distributing stickers that retailers can place near their store security system stickers to explain to customers that their stores are protected.

The stickers shout out “that if you come to commit a crime, we will aggressively go after you, find out who you are and have you arrested,” Brebric says.

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