Corrections or additions?
These articles by Kathleen McGinn Spring were prepared for the
September 5, 2001 edition of U.S. Newspaper. All rights reserved.
New Cameras For Remote Surveillance
Andrew Sheppard needed to be in four places at
once. Sheppard, president of a Canal Pointe start-up called
Technologies, also owns movie theaters. A good two-hour drive
his eastern-most and westernmost locations. His dilemma, back in the
mid-1990s, was how to keep tabs on each without spending all of his
time on the road. He found an imperfect solution by marrying
software with legacy hardware, that is, by attaching his in-house
cameras to video conferencing software. This allowed him to call up
images of ticket-selling employees from anywhere he could plug his
laptop into a modem.
But limitations in the analog cameras, then the only kind of
cameras widely available, hampered Sheppard’s remote management, and
he began hunting for better systems. After extensive research, he
found what he was looking for in Denmark. A manufacturer there was
producing digital surveillance systems. In 1996, he bought one for
$12,000. "The system paid for itself within two or three
So delighted was Sheppard with the ability this system gave him to
keep an eye on employees — and on customers too — that he
began to encourage friends to purchase the digital surveillance
and helped them install it. "`You should do this as a
his friends urged, and Sheppard has done just that. In April, he
Surveillance Technologies, a company that has three employees, and
has just started its marketing campaign.
Sheppard estimates that fewer than one-tenth of 1 percent of all
have digital surveillance systems, but he predicts demand will soon
be there. In his own experience, the surrogate-eye has ferreted out
theft, and quickly settled at least one lawsuit. He has watched ticket
takers hand unripped tickets back to accomplices in the ticket window,
who then resell them and pocket the ticket price. He has seen
drop $5 bills on the floor, kick them out of camera range (so they
thought), and then stuff the bills into their pockets.
On one occasion, his theater was sued by a woman who said she had
slipped, fallen, and hurt her leg. "We were able to show that
the person had been there hours before, and orchestrated with her
husband how it would work," Sheppard says. The surveillance film
had captured the action, and the lawsuit was quickly dismissed. Just
one successful claim of a sore leg can cost a business $50,000,
says. As for the petty theft by employees, without the cameras, he
says, "you would never know."
Surveillance Technologies’ early customers are retailers. Target
include schools, restaurants, video stores, bars, fast food joints,
homeowners, and office locations. Beyond capturing theft and fraud,
Sheppard, a man who takes a dim view of employee behavior overall,
says the systems are a boon wherever there are workers.
"I’ve tried giving employees total control, and I’ve tried
he says. "Babysitting works best." Given any opportunity at
all, Sheppard says, employees will gravitate toward goofing off. A
really good surveillance system, however, will cut out the
Put in enough cameras and there will be no more idle gossip. No more
punching time cards for a pal. No more getting away with coming in
late fearlessly, because it is a safe bet the manager will be in late
too, and unlikely to report an infraction.
Surveillance cameras have been around for a long time, of course,
but the VCR-based, analog systems seen on guard at most banks,
and gift shops are primitive compared with the newer digital systems.
Here are some of the capabilities of 21st century video surveillance,
which has been available for only a few years:
project tiny pictures at a relatively low resolution. The resolution
on a digital system can be up to 640 x 480, whereas that from a
analog camera is 160 x 120.
system, images from all cameras are recorded onto one tape. "You
don’t have an ability to separate images by camera," Sheppard
explains. It is not possible to get a big, clear picture of just the
action over cash register number three, for instance. With digital,
the biggest annoyances with an analog system is that it is necessary
to look at the entire tape to search for the moment the break-in
or the employee started handing sweaters out the window to friends
on the street. This could take eight hours, or 10. With digital, it
is possible to call up any combination of date, time, and camera
all of the action, all of the time that they are turned on. A digital
system, on the other hand, can be told to record only when there is
motion. A camera trained on a door, for instance, might only record
when it opens, thereby capturing only the essential action in the
room, and also saving room on the hard drive. "Instead of watching
12 hours of tape," Sheppard says, "you only have to watch
digital surveillance can be programmed to flash pictures of the event
to a computer right away. Not only does the business owner know there
is a problem, but he instantly has pictures of the perpetrator that
he can take to the police and to his insurance agent. In fact, he
can E-mail the pictures in seconds, and each can show time and date.
Digital surveillance undoubtedly keeps customers,
artists, and employees from getting away with much of anything, but
doesn’t it make for an excessively Big Brotherish work atmosphere?
"Employees need to get used to the cameras," Sheppard admits.
Most do, he says, and retail workers — and their parents —
often come to appreciate the security the state-of-the-art security
offers. The close surveillance punishes slackers and thieves, but
also provides a way for honest, hard working employees to be
as such. Most appreciate this, he finds.
Sheppard’s road to entrepreneurship began during his junior
year at Colgate (Class of 1989), where he majored in anthropology
and sociology and minored in religion. That year he started a
baseball card business that he says became the third largest business
of its kind in the country. When his parents, both professionals,
found out about the business, "they weren’t too happy," he
says. Grudgingly, they allowed him to continue, but only if he
to graduate on time. He did, and has been self-employed ever since.
He started Shepsters restaurant and bar in Hamilton right after
Then, in 1992, he sold the baseball card business, and started buying
He found the restaurant business "very difficult," and no
longer owns Shepsters. The movie theater business can be tough too,
but Sheppard says his surveillance system makes it easy for him to
run his theaters. The silent 24/7 watchdogs drastically cut the time
he must spend on that business, allowing him to concentrate on his
start-up. A possible downside to knowing what everyone is up to at
every minute, however, is that this knowledge can lead to reprimands,
or even dismissals. There has been enough of this that at his theaters
that Sheppard, who lives in Princeton with his wife, Maggie, a real
estate agent with Coldwell Banker, does not want the names or
of his movie theaters printed. "We worry about security,"
— Kathleen McGinn Spring
Suite 208, Princeton 08540. 609-520-0999; fax, 609-279-0641.
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