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Company uses aerial footage technology to fight crime

An American surveillance company nestled into a small dark room of TVs and computers in Dayton, Ohio, is trying to solve crimes across the globe.

The company, Persistent Surveillance, uses man-powered planes, and high-powered cameras, to capture images of crime from above. A team of analysts use the footage obtained to track criminals from the scene of a crime to their homes or immediate locations.

Police are then alerted to the crimes, which range from burglaries and assaults, to carjacks and murders.

"We don't identify a person, we identify the fact that they came from this house, and went to this house. The officers go there, knock on the door, and typically find the stuff," said Ross McNutt, Persistent Surveillance president and CEO.

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A plane used for crime investigation by Persistent Surveillance

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McNutt is an Air Force veteran with years of experience in surveillance and intelligence, and he's hoping that his new way of surveillance catches on with governments and politicians hoping to solve crimes.

Persistent Surveillance has currently only been contracted for short term missions, like high-crime areas in the United States like Camden, N.J., to some of the highest crime areas of the world, like Mexico's one-time murder capital, Ciudad Juarez.

"One of the problems that we had down there, which we often have, is that we see more crimes than we can investigate," McNutt said.

Still, in an area of the world where assassins, referred to in Mexico as "sicarios," reign with impunity, the eye-in-the sky brought a small wave of justice to the city.

"We witnessed 34 murders down there, and we actually have confessions that account for 75 murders," he said.

The high-tech cameras used by Persistent Surveillance can grab images within a 5-mile radius, in every direction -- 25 square miles in total. The image can only be viewed in one pixel, making people on the screen only visible as small moving blurs.

But just the fact that they're visible raises alarms for Jay Stanley, a Senior Policy Analyst from the American Civil Liberties Union, and a critic of McNutt and his new high-flying technology.

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A photo from above taken by a Persistent Surveillance airplane.
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"You can always solve some crimes if you're willing to turn your country into a totalitarian place, where everything everyone does is watched at all times," Stanley said.

"But the fact is that in our traditions, the government doesn't look over your shoulder, literally, or figuratively, unless it has specific evidence that you're involved in wrongdoing."

"There is some reluctance on the part of some cities," McNutt acknowledged.

"Because of the concerns some of the citizens have that we're big brother - that we're watching over them all the time. The real fact is, even though we can image half a city at once, we only go to where there is reported crimes," he said.

Persistent Surveillance is part of a multi-billion dollar industry that is continually growing. A study from market research company ReportsnReports said the private surveillance industry is expected to jump from 13.5 billion in 2012, to 39 billion in 2020.

McNutt currently has millions of dollars worth of contracts submitted with governments. He is targeting cities ranging from Chicago, to Baghdad and Kabul, Afghanistan.

"If a criminal is worried about whether or not we're flying, at least he's thinking about whether or not he's going to get caught, and he's less likely to do the crime.