'Persistent surveillance' tracks you from the sky - Tucson News Now

'Persistent surveillance' tracks you from the sky

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By Som Lisaius - email

TUCSON, AZ (KOLD) - Among the dozens of million-dollar displays featured at the annual Airborne Law Enforcement Association conference held this year in Tucson...is a much smaller, lower-fare exhibition that seems to be getting all the attention. It's the Persistent Surveillance Systems booth.  Thursday afternoon, KOLD News 13 stopped by the Tucson Convention Center to see what all the fuss was about. 

"There's your victim," says Persistent Surveillance Systems president and founder Ross McNutt, a retired U.S. Air Force officer and holder of a PhD in Rapid Product Development. "There he's shot--and the murderer will run and get into the second car over here."

What he's showing us is real: a murder caught on tape by the omni-present eye of Persistent Surveillance Systems.

"We're able to rewind time over a large area," McNutt says, scrolling back and forth with a mouse and showing us the crime from several different vantage points.  "Unlike a pan-tilt-zoom camera--when you have to know where you want to look...we stare at a very large area and anywhere within that area, we can go back and see what happened."

Using both aerial and land-based, highly-sensitive cameras--the Ohio-based company is able to monitor 16 square miles at any given time.  Not only does this provide real-time surveillance of specific events.  But it's a running recording of any crime that happened within the monitored area.

Such was the case, when a Philadelphia couple came home at 6:30 one night only to find their home burglarized.

"We actually rewound the time looking at the house and saw the person walk out the front door at 2:30 in the afternoon," McNutt says.  "(We) tracked him eight and a half blocks and we were able to identify the house the guy came out of. The officers took if from there."

After just eight months on the open market--Persistent Surveillance Systems has played a role in solving more than 30 murders.  But as you might imagine, the product doesn't come cheap.

It's about $2000 an hour for the complete service (including aircraft, camera services, pilot, ground support and data links) but according to McNutt, that's still cheaper than paying for a police helicopter and pilot.

"We just like to think we're a lot more effective," McNutt says, smiling.

As for any privacy issues, McNutt says, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that privacy cannot be assumed or protected on public streets.

"We don't get into people's businesses, we don't look into people's backyards--what we do is we start from the crime and track people to and from those crimes," McNutt says.

According to the company president, no Arizona law enforcement agencies have inquired about Persistent Surveillance Systems yet; however, the company is in consultation with several federal agencies.  McNutt says his systems would be especially effective in the expansive scope of border enforcement. 

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