Germany: Bavaria upgrades police aerial surveillance

The Bavarian government is stepping up police video surveillance. In addition to aerial observation and mobile camera vans, the interior minister announces research into facial, behavioural and pattern recognition.

As probably the first German authority with security tasks, the Bavarian police creates a balloon for video surveillance. Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) showed the device at a press conference yesterday. It is launched from a trailer and attached to a 300-metre long line. The police calls it a „tethered helium balloon with video technology“.

The presentation took place on the occasion of the establishment of a new „Coordination Office Video“ (KOST), which Herrmann also presented to the public for the first time yesterday. The KOST is located at the Munich Airport Police Station and is to bundle the „Bavaria-wide competences in the areas of deployment, law and technology“ and support all police headquarters accordingly. In this way, it „makes a significant contribution to Bavaria being by far the safest federal state“.

Seven „vandal-proof“ video trailers

According to a media report, the tethered balloon has a circumference of six metres. Before launching, the device is filled with helium from the trailer. A few metres below the balloon, a high-resolution camera with a thermal image sensor is mounted. The device is fitted with a so-called gimbal, which is also used on helicopters or drones. A gimbal compensates for vibrations and unwanted movements and serves to stabilise and control the image.

The „tethered helium balloon with video technology“ cost a total of 400,000 Euros. It is intended for use in the surveillance of major events, such as festivals or political gatherings. In addition, it is to help in the search for missing persons.

Bavaria is also purchasing two more „vandal-proof“ video trailers with retractable cameras. They are operated by a generator whose tank is supposed to allow them to run for several weeks. The „semi-stationary“ devices weigh two and a half tonnes and are pulled by an Amarok pickup truck, which was also newly procured. Bavaria now have a total of seven such mobile surveillance units.

Cameras in cities and all local trains

The mobile technology complements the now 81 cameras mounted by the police at various locations as needed. Since 2017, their number has almost tripled. With 30 cameras, the most are in Nuremberg, while only eleven are set up in the state capital Munich, which is three times larger. According to a spokesperson for the Central Franconia police headquarters, this is due to the „structural conditions“ of the sometimes winding city.

By 2023, also all public transport trains in Bavaria are to be completely equipped with video cameras. This has already been implemented in the suburban trains in Munich and Nuremberg. The state government has approved 2.4 million Euros for this „more security“ in the 2017 to 2019 budget years. The expansion of the „temporary, mobile and police video technology“ was budgeted at that time with funds amounting to two million Euros.

Along with North Rhine-Westphalia, Bavaria is also a pioneer in the area of surveillance with drones. The state government recently established a new „Competence Centre for Unmanned Aerial Systems“ at the police helicopter squadron in the city Roth. Currently, police headquarters, border police, special units and the State Criminal Police Office have around 30 quadrocopters of various sizes at their disposal. They are also used for manhunts and border surveillance.

No permission for facial recognition

The new „Video Coordination Office“ is also to drive technical developments and innovations in the field of „intelligent video technology“. According to the Ministry of the Interior, this also includes „facial, behavioural or pattern recognition“. At present, however, according to the Minister of the Interior, the systems are „not yet mature enough to be of use to the police“.

The possibility of facial recognition was provided for in the new Police Tasks Act concluded this summer, but was removed by the CSU after fierce protests. If the Bavarian police were to use behavioural recognition in the future, this would also be the first time it has been used nationwide.Together with Deutsche Bahn, the Federal Police tested such a system two years ago at Südkreuz station in Berlin, but refrained from using it.

Image: The „tethered helium balloon with video technology“ can be used at festivals or political gatherings (Promotional video).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.