Rossen Reports

'Smart cameras': Law enforcement's new weapon against terror

April 23, 2013 at 8:34 AM ET

Video: As the nation reels from the Boston Marathon bombings, police are beginning to make use of cutting-edge technology that could help officers spot a bomb before it goes off. NBC’s Jeff Rossen reports.

Video surveillance cameras played a crucial role in tracking down the suspects of the Boston Marathon bombings. In New York, authorities say they possess a high-tech, smart-camera surveillance system that may actually prevent such tragedies. In fact, it already has thwarted similar attacks over the last decade.

“We’ve had 16 plots against the city since Sept. 11, and none has succeeded,” New York Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly said in a segment that aired Tuesday on TODAY.

Kelly told TODAY national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen that the artificial intelligence technology used in the department’s 4,000 city cameras can detect abnormal or suspicious human behavior. Cameras can immediately spot when someone abandons a backpack or other package on a street corner or subway bench. They then alert police to the suspicious behavior instantly.

The cameras have the ability to single out individuals based on colors they are wearing, and can easily magnify potential suspects for authorities. They also have the capability to read thousands of license plates each second.

“Not only do we know where the car is, we get two pictures in real time of that vehicle,” said NYPD technician Jessica Tisch. “In addition, it'll show us every place where that license plate has been scanned before on our system, going back as long as we have the data.”

Kelly said his department is publicizing its surveillance system to deter future terrorists. “It gives individuals who want to attack, who think about attacking, pause for thought,” he told Rossen.

John Frazzini, a former Secret Service agent who now heads BRS Labs, a company selling the smart-camera technology, said the system already has had an impact in agencies in Houston, San Francisco and other cities.

“This is changing the face of law enforcement,” Frazzini said. “Catching these events before they happen is the name of the game.”

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