Why The Heck Do Police Release Grainy Surveillance Video Images?

Why do police release crime videos asking for help in identifying the criminals?

Since police are expected to have access to database of every citizen, why can’t they just use their high-tech image recognition software to match the faces captured from the recorded videos with the faces in their database just as we see in the movies?

Ever Read Something Like These On The News?

“Police has released surveillance video footage of a man who used a bottle of wine to attack a clerk during a robbery at a Columbus gas station. After stealing money from the register drawers, he also stole the clerk’s wallet and smart phone.

While the clerk is now in coma at XYZ hospital where he’s been admitted after suffering a broken skull with several fragments of broken bottle scattered all around his head and neck. The Columbus police released the surveillance videos hoping that anyone with useful information about the thief’s identity would call the police and help them apprehend this criminal ”

Then you go ahead to click the video below or above the paragraphs you just read only to see some grainy, very pixelated, blurry absolutely incomprehensible audio-less video of someone running around. As you try to pay closer attention, the video images seem to seize at irregular intervals.

As if that’s not frustrating enough, the video seems to overstretch with several horizontal and vertical lines lacing the videos. Now, what the heck do we make of that?

There are pros and cons to using video cameras for security.For  the pros, many folks have used video surveillance to avert home invasion and on the negative side, I wrote an article about the possible problems of having video surveillance in schools. Advocates of cheap cameras should also read why using fake cameras is not only dangerous but also much more expensive on the long run.


So Why Do Police Release Bad Videos To The Public?

There can only be few reasons which I’m going to guess below:

  1. The police do not have necessary manpower or equipment to identify the criminal. – Highly Unlikely
  2. The video recorder did not capture the face of the criminal – Likely!
  3. The images are so poor that an image recognition software will reject it with error
    “Input Error: WTF is This!” – Highly Likely!
  4. Police enjoy releasing funny grainy surveillance video images to make us laugh – Okay, really?
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As a contrast, here is a story of how police used images from surveillance videos to arrest a hit-run driver who ran away from the scene of a fatal accident. Note that police did not release his pictures asking for help in identifying the culprit. In fact, his face was quickly identified by the police  in addition to his DNA which he left at the scene.


What gets me thinking is, why would people buy such appalling video security systems when you know that the video quality it will produce will be so terrible. Does the security of your life and business not depend on those equipment?

Some people still use the old analog DVR CCTV security systems that produce less video quality than the newer, more feature rich IP video surveillance systems. By the way, if you happen to know anyone still using those ancient analog CCTV systems, do them a favor, throw the analog systems into the garbage bin and recommend that they buy another one.

Best Ways To Avoid Grainy Surveillance Videos

Below, I will highlight some of the best ways I know to avoid getting those bad quality, goofy and grainy surveillance video images from your home security cameras:

  • Upgrade Your VCR Systems! It’s so alarming how many businesses still use the old VCR systems to capture security videos. I strongly think any business that is serious about security should not have to wait till they’ve experienced a string of robberies before they upgrade their surveillance equipment. Using old VCR systems makes it terribly difficult for police to help you and your business in apprehending any criminal that robs your store.


  • Your Cameras & Lighting: Your cameras must be able to record quality images in low light environment. How well surveillance cameras can handle lighting variation is described by a term called “Lux Rating”. Lux is a measure of light intensity. A camera lux rating refers to the least amount of light that will produce pictures. The lower the number the more sensitive the camera. Manufacturers have different measurement: 2 lux, 1 lux, 0.75 lux and even 0 lux are not uncommon. WebcamCorp shows some samples you should see.
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  • Camera Positioning: As simple as it sounds, this is the part many people just do not get right. You have to make sure the angle of view of your camera totally covers your area of interest. This means that when you buy your surveillance cameras you need to check the width of the angle of view.

Direction of view is another important point. Look at the  two images above. Which of them do you think would give police problem in identifying the criminal? Yes, you’re right, the left!

The police released the image because the video surveillance only captured the back of the thieves.  The recording totally missed their faces, which, IMO, are the most important. In this case, I’d have expected the security cameras in that house to be right above the window (facing the living room) and above the entrance door facing inwards.

The results of that?

The camera above the window might be able to capture the faces of the criminals as they cart away the home theater while the one above the entrance would capture their faces (or side-views) as they turn left in exit.

The point is, if you’re going to eat a frog, at least eat the ones with eggs. If you’re going to use video surveillance systems to protect your business, be sure to use a system capable of producing clean, clear, crisp video images. Even the cheapest CCTV DVR security system of today can still produce terrific high-definition output than those ancient analog CCTV systems.

Next time I watch online news and I see those terrible police released videos, I will just wish the victims good luck and quick recovery!


It breaks my heart to see people robbed of their hard-earned money and properties that took years of hard labor to acquire. So, I designed SmartFoxSecurity.Com to educate people on how they can protect their valuables by using video surveillance systems.

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