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L-3’s wireless digital video solutions

 

L-3 Mobile-Vision Inc. provides innovative technology platforms that allow public safety organizations to capture, manage and communicate critical information in a safe, secure and reliable manner. From digital in-car video systems capturing more than 18 million incidents a year, to rugged mobile data computing systems, and now with the latest mobile automatic license plate technology, L-3 Mobile-Vision has the experience and tools to ensure agencies and their officers are operating at optimum efficiency.

FLASHBACK2™

The FLASHBACK2™ digital video recording solution introduced the use of solid-state memory to the industry. Most recently, the company has introduced a smaller and more compact version of its groundbreaking VoiceLink Plus® microphone. The Digital Evidence Series is also a breakthrough for law enforcement and the judicial system with a complete line of digital evidence management solutions that goes beyond cataloging in-car video to managing any digital media and building electronic case files. L-3 Mobile-Vision has an installed product base of more than 80,000 systems in more than 7,000 law enforcement agencies, with targeted worldwide growth in law enforcement as well as the emergency services and government security markets.

The FLASHBACK2 In-Car-Digital video recording system is utilized in law enforcement vehicles to record traffic incidents with the purpose of collecting evidence to substantiate any claims and/or convictions. Virtually every function is completely automatic: The system can turn on, record and transfer files without any operator intervention. The system is activated by wireless microphone, emergency light bar activation, excessive vehicle speed, or from a programmable auxiliary input and will report the date, time, car number, officer’s name, activation source and RADAR data as a permanent part of the video evidence. The DVR records to solid-state compact flash memory instead of hard drives or DVDs. With no moving parts, the FLASHBACK2 is able to sustain shock, vibration and temperature extremes.

FLASHBACK2 is compact, lightweight and has very low power requirements. For maximum security, the system uses 802.11a/g wireless technology to automatically transfer files to a secure agency server, thus requiring no human intervention so the chain of evidence will never be compromised. Standard equipment includes the VoiceLink Plus® (VLP), wireless microphone and high-performance Nite-Watch™ camera with 144x zoom and enhanced near-dark viewing capabilities. In terms of recording capabilities, officers can record with two cameras and three audio sources concurrently. In addition, pre-event recording captures up to 60 seconds of video prior to record activation.

The standard GPS Module allows for searchability by location, and it also sets the system clock and synchronizes all department vehicles to actual/real time. In-Vehicle Incident Classification is the ability to designate an incident (DUI, Reckless, Domestic, etc.) immediately after the incident is concluded. This classification (or priority level) is passed to the management solution in the agency where definable operational rules allow for the automated processing and categorization of specific classes of incidents.

The TRACE feature enables fast and accurate tracking of location(s) for evidence that was discarded during a chase sequence with new MAP IT! pinpointing capability. The FLASHBACK2’s Compact Flash Card’s 48GBs (available in 16GB and 32GB sizes) stores eight to 10 hours of high-quality D1 video.

Files are easily transferred by wireless download of data via 802.11 (a, b/g), removable compact flash media or wired Ethernet connection. For user identification, there is a simple USB key log-in feature. For digital video authentication, an MD- 4 algorithm verifies data integrity.

External triggers include lights, sirens, configurable speed trigger or wireless microphone. The system is vehicle battery-friendly in that it requires only 1.5 amps; it is also equipped with an intelligent autooff feature.

FLASHBACK2™ - Lite

The FLASHBACK2™-Lite is a new low-cost version of the FLASHBACK2 digital in-car video system. FLASHBACK2-Lite is designed for agencies that do not require wireless transfer and have a minimum of videos to store and manage. Tailored for agencies with up to five cars, the product ships with free video management software and will allow budget-challenged agencies to equip their officers with video capture technology at an affordable price. Video is stored on a commercial-grade removable CF card and is available from 8GB to 32GB. The complete system includes: solid-state digital video recorder, 3.5-inch monitor console, forward-facing Nite-watch camera, basic viewer video management software and L-3’s newest Voicelink Plus® microphone.

The FLASHBACK2-Lite solution allows officers to have digital in-car video who may not have had that opportunity due to cost issues. Currently, L-3 is running a “Try It Before You Buy It” promotion where they will send a FLASHBACK2-Lite to an agency and allow them to try it for 60 days. The agency must only provide a valid, signed purchase order which won’t be processed until the 60 days is up.

FLASHBACK CycleVision™

With its rugged, solid-state memory, FLASHBACK CycleVision™ gives motorcycle patrol units the ability to digitally record video evidence. Based on L-3’s FLASHBACK Digital Video Recorder (DVR), CycleVision includes an externally mounted camera and monitor console that are weatherproof and capable of withstanding extremes in temperature and humidity as well as direct sunlight.

The Weatherproof Monitor Console includes a 3.5-inch color LCD monitor, a speaker with adjustable volume, and backlit operational controls that duplicate the front panel controls of the FLASHBACK DVR. In addition, the sunshield provides optimal outdoor visibility.

Other features include a weather-proof CycleVision Camera, a 1/3- inch high-resolution color camera, 0.1 Lux with 3.8mm wide-angle lens and sunshield for glare reduction, and the patented VoiceLink Plus® (VLP) wireless microphone. The GPS module allows for searchability by location, sets the system clock, and synchronizes all department vehicles to actual/real time.

In-Vehicle Incident Classification is the ability to designate an incident (DUI, Reckless, Domestic, etc.) immediately after the incident is concluded. This classification (or priority level) is passed to the management solution in the agency where definable operational rules allow for the automated processing and categorization of specific classes of incidents.

The TRACE feature enables fast and accurate tracking of location(s) for evidence that was discarded during a chase sequence with new MAP IT! pinpointing capability. Like the FLASHBACK DVR, Pre-Event Recording captures up to 60 seconds of video prior to record activation. Also, the CycleVision draws less than 2 amps of power so it won’t drain a motorcycles battery, and its compact design means it’s easily stored in the saddlebag, allowing ample room for other equipment.

Wilmington, N.C., Police

When the Wilmington, N.C., Police Department was founded in 1847, it was housed in the basement of City Hall, and it was manned by a single officer. By 2008, the police department had moved to a new state-of-the art facility. Its personnel had grown to 253 sworn officers and 57 civilian employees, with four motorcycles, 271 car units and two helicopters.

Yet Wilmington PD had a problem. Their in-vehicle video recording equipment was aging and breaking often. In addition, the vendor who sold them many of the aging systems had gone out of business, making parts harder to find and service more expensive. Adding to the situation, the department’s data transfer and management systems were slow and inefficient.

They needed a video recording solution that would solve near-term, break-fix problems and prevent future, unplanned maintenance costs—while improving management and efficiency.

Background

In the past, Wilmington PD had purchased units on an ad hoc basis— replacing old systems with the lowest cost option available. As a result, their video environment was a mixture of systems from different technology generations and different vendors which often created incompatibilities. In addition, all data transfer was manual. It was costing the department hundreds of hours in support services annually. “Each fleet category—motorcycle, car and helicopter—had its own camera systems,” said Captain Donny Williams, in charge of fleet management and support services. “Supporting all that equipment was not an efficient use of budget or personnel.”

It was 2008, and budgets everywhere were tighter than in the years leading up to that point. The department decided to take a more structured approach to technology purchase and implementation— with the goal of streamlining video systems and infrastructure.

A team of 15 field officers and support services staff evaluated wireless systems based on price, features and performance. The process began with 15 vendors. From that group, three were selected to set up live demo systems for a 30-day field trial. Each vendor installed a complete wireless video recording system including in-car video recording equipment, wireless hotspots, servers and data management software. “The vendors had two days to set up their systems,” said Williams. “But L-3 had their systems up and transferring data within two hours.”

All three vendors were comparably priced. However, in performance and feature set availability, L-3 ranked significantly higher than the others. In fact, L-3 Mobile Vision was the only vendor whose solid state video recording systems worked in all vehicle categories—including helicopters.

Solution

In 2008, L-3 Mobile Vision began installing digital video recording systems into the Wilmington fleet. The FLASHBACK2 DVR solution was installed in 24 cars and two motorcycles. According to John Powers, director of operations for L-3 Mobile Vision, FLASHBACK2 has D1 resolution or full CIF, versus VGA or 1/4 CIF for the original FLASHBACK.

The DVR is all-wireless with digital video recorder, solid-state flash memory card, VoiceLink Plus wireless microphone, and Nite-Watch camera. In order to reduce costs, one additional system would be shared by the two fleet helicopters. “We needed to trim costs wherever possible, so the decision was made to share the DVR between our two helicopters,” said Officer Letson, nightshift pilot. “What’s great is it takes less than 60 seconds to pull the system out and drop it into the other helicopter.” Plus because the system is solid state (with no moving parts), it can be handled easily without breakage.

Data transfer became more efficient in two steps. First, a total of 10 wireless hotspots were set up in two locations—nine at police headquarters and one more at the precinct station (nine miles away). Next, L-3 Digital Evidence Pro™ video management software was installed. The video management software automates data upload at both wireless locations, then it securely transfers that data to a third location (Wilmington’s data center) more than a half-mile away.

To address potential data bottlenecks when as many as 25-30 cars and motorcycles arrive at once during shift change, L-3 implemented its proprietary Dynamic Load Balancing capability within its Digital Evidence Pro software solution. The solution streamlines data uploads at high volumes—ensuring fast, secure data transfer for all vehicles. Plus, because L-3 FLASHBACK2 DVR systems work across all mobile unit categories, additional video systems can be added without increasing infrastructure costs.

Results

For Wilmington PD, the impact of L-3 Mobile Vision systems is just beginning to be seen. The 27 installed units are just a fraction of the overall fleet of 165. Yet, according to Captain Williams, the impact is already impressive.

“We’re seeing immediate positive impact on personnel,” Williams reported. In the past, officers had to remove the entire hard drive to archive their video recording. Now, for those units with L-3 systems, officers simply drive within range of a wireless hotspot. They don’t even need to get out of their unit.

Still, Support Services is where the most visible impact has been felt. “When it came to copying and archiving, the old systems burned minute for minute,” said Capt. Williams. “So if you had to burn a 60-minute video, it took 60 minutes of support staff’s time.” If each of the 27 L-3-supported units copied just one, hour-long video per week, the time savings for Support Services staff would be significant.

Officer Letson added: “The system time stamps so you can mark a specific spot on the video. It even records locations and speeds. It really works well. Archiving, copying and even labeling are just a push of a button.”

“If you’re in a position where you’re trying to accomplish multiple tasks with a complex fleet, L-3 is the right answer,” said Capt. Williams. “Compatibility between systems enables us to capitalize on existing server space. The management software enables us to add camera systems on our schedule—without adding infrastructure.” Wilmington PD plans to outfit the balance of its 165-car fleet over the next three years.

Photos courtesy of L-3 Mobile Vision, Inc.

Published in Public Safety IT, Sep/Oct 2010

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