Chiefs and other administrators look forward to the
annual IACP show for the workshops and the networking with other executives.
Police equipment and service vendors look forward to what the IACP calls the
“technology exposition,” or the trade show, that being the Big Kahuna for
public safety vendors.
If there was any one technology that stood out this
year, it was in-car or patrol video. Most of the major vendors in this market,
and some new ones, have introduced all-digital video systems intended to
replace the tape-based units now in use in most areas of the country. Digital
video has some distinct advantages over tape-based analog systems, most of
which use VHS cassettes for recording.
One plus is that video segments are instantly
available without having to rewind or fast-forward a tape. This applies whether
the segment is being viewed in the patrol car or from a server in the police
station or courtroom. Some systems can
even continue to record while a segment on the same storage medium is being
Another advantage is that the storage medium is
considerably less volatile, not being as sensitive to external magnetic fields
as tape. Hard disk drives are less likely to be damaged by a magnetic field,
and optical disks (CD-ROM and recordable DVDs) aren’t bothered at all. These
disks also take up less room when archived, and hold nearly as much video as a
standard VHS tape. The data files that contain the video and audio can also
link many other data sources, such as output from traffic radar, brake sensors,
emergency light and siren switches, and GPS units, appending this data to every
frame of video recorded.
But the real “oh, wow” aspect of digital video is what
is most often called “pre-event recording.” Just about every officer who has
run a tape-based patrol video system has wished that the system was turned on
when he saw a car run a red light or the drunk driver in front of him cross
into the oncoming lanes. Most departments don’t have the systems in record mode
all of the time, so those details get missed.
The majority of the digital video systems are always
in a kind of passive recording mode, saving the output from the camera to a
memory chip. The capacity of the system is determined by the size of the memory
on the chip and the quality of the video that is being sent to it. In most
cases, the last 10 to 60 seconds of video is always available. When an officer
puts the system into “record” mode, the video on the memory chip is dumped to the
recording medium, so that the effect is as if the officer had pushed the record
button 10 to 60 seconds earlier. The
recording actually shows what happened 10 to 60 seconds before the button was
Every manufacturer seems to have a slightly different
approach to digital video. Some products record onto a hard drive, some onto an
optical disk, and at least one onto a digital tape (and several offer options
to do any of these). Some systems are based on a “sneakernet” where the hard
drives, tapes or optical disks are hand-carried into the station for storage
and archiving. Others use a wireless or hardwired network to send the video
from the car to the storage unit with little or no intervention by the officer.
And some systems include a server to manage and index the stored and archived
video, where others leave this to the user. It’s a complex topic, but one we at
LAW and ORDER have been working on
for the past year.
Within the next few issues, you will see a
comprehensive review of patrol video technology, with hands-on reviews of
systems that we have been testing with the help of some cooperative law
enforcement agencies. For that reason, we won’t go into the specifics in this
article, but know that the information is coming.
That said, take a look at some of the other new and
improved technologies that were showcased at the 2003 IACP show in
Management of traffic citation information is usually
a paperwork quagmire, with information that has to be transcribed from paper
forms to computer-readable data, and then back again. Watson Ticketing uses a
handheld Pocket PC and browser-based tables to all but eliminate the paperwork
from this process and save on administrative costs.
Traffic officers use a Pocket PC handheld computer
equipped with a wireless transceiver to record the citation data. Entering the
vehicle license number automatically generates a query for registration
information and wants, and the information contained in the response populates
the citation form displayed on the handheld. A similar process occurs when the
violator’s driver’s license information is entered onto the form.
Violation types are entered from a drop-down list, so
there is no confusion with misapplied traffic violation codes or mismatched
captions and section numbers. The location of the violation can be entered
manually, or from a “favorites” list created and maintained by the user. When
needed, the amount of the fine or bail can be retrieved from a database and
entered on the form, as is the court appearance data and location.
When the citation is complete, the violator uses the
officer’s stylus to sign his name across the Pocket PC’s display panel. The
signature is captured and recorded with the citation data. The officer then
walks back to the patrol car, tears off a printed copy of the citation from a
printer mounted inside (the information for the citation has already been
wirelessly transmitted to the car), and gives the hard copy to the
Once the process is complete, the officer can dictate
a note that will be attached to the citation record, using the voice recorder
contained in the handheld computer. The officer could even use this feature to
record the conversation between him and the violator.
Information from the citations is immediately appended
to the traffic citation database, which is available to both police and court
officials. Graphic maps show numbers and types of citations issued in
designated patrol zones, and be can configured to show specific types of
citations, accidents, violations based on time of day, and other displays.
Information contained in tables is similarly customizable and sortable for easy
Court officials can retrieve any information needed
from the computer display, and can enter dispositions directly into the
database. The end result is a traffic records system that is almost paperless
and is constantly up to date. DataDriven, LLC can furnish literature and a demo
CD containing video clips of the Watson Ticketing process.
If your traffic citation problems have more to do with
accountability than paper flow, Custom Data Solutions offers a system called
TicketTrack. TicketTrack is a bar code-based tracking system designed to
provide accountability for traffic citations and reduce or eliminate ticket
“fixing.” Citation books and individual citations and forms are scanned and
recorded in a central, tamper-proof database, so that every citation is
accounted for. A similar system, VideoTrack,
provides accountability for videotapes used in patrol video systems.
Telephone Call-Out Network
Public safety agencies are often required to maintain
multiple call-out and notification lists for specific emergencies, whether they
are officer-involved accidents and shootings, hazardous materials incidents, or
generic public relations disasters. Manual dialing of these lists is incredibly
time-consuming, especially now that people have multiple telephone numbers for
their home and business phones, pagers, cell phones, fax machines and the like.
Even when the person tasked with this unpleasant chore manages to reach the
desired individuals, he often can’t tell them any more than “come in” or “stand
by and wait for another call from the boss.”
ADTEC, an Australian-based communications company, is
offering a solution in the form of ALERTS, an acronym for ADTEC Limited
Emergency Response Telephone System. ALERTS uses ADTEC’s TeleBridge Connect
system, a separate controller, and a conventional personal computer to automate
the call-out process and locate every member on the designated call list. The
system then delivers a pre-recorded message, or automatically adds each member
to a live teleconference.
Team leaders authorized to initiate a call-out can use
any telephone to connect with ALERTS. Security is maintained with PINs that are
confidential to each user. Once a connection is established, the leader selects
the appropriate pre-designated call-out list, chooses the desired action
(whether to deliver a recorded message or to conference in the list member),
and lets the system do its work.
Each member of the call-out list can have as long a
list of contact numbers as might be necessary. Once a call is answered, another
PIN entry is required to deliver the pre-recorded message or add the member to
the conference. This feature is used to ensure that the correct person is
reached and that the message is not delivered to an unauthorized person.
ADTEC speeds the call-out process by “blast-dialing”
multiple numbers at one time, making the most of available telephone resources
and freeing up personnel for other tasks. ADTEC claims that the system can
complete 400 telephone calls in less than 90 seconds, and can be expanded by
adding telephone lines and corresponding “line cards” to interface with them.
The system represents a cost-effective alternative to conference calling
services and manpower-intensive communications crews. The system can be
purchased outright or obtained as a service bureau.
Virtually every provider of wireless data services,
which means most cellular telephone companies, are rolling out 3G (for “third
generation”) data systems that will provide bandwidth similar to that available
on a hardwired data network. Lucent Technologies, Sprint, AT&T Wireless,
Verizon, Nextel and others are all working to build out their 3G networks to
provide seamless coverage across the United States and beyond.
3G networks have substantially more carrying capacity
than existing digital or analog networks, so they can provide very fast
text-based data and limited video and audio feeds. Where existing wireless data
networks can deliver the demographic information contained in a driver’s
license file, a 3G network will be able to transmit and display a color image
of the driver’s license itself, complete with photo and signature.
Urban centers that have the largest customer base will
be the first to get the cellular-based 3G networks, and they are already
available in many cities. But users of second generation digital cellular
networks know that even those systems do not provide coast-to-coast coverage,
and the only available service in some areas is still analog-based (where there
is any at all). Because of the expense of these networks, and the low demand
for services in rural areas, 3G networks may not be available everywhere for
some years to come.
Many agencies that based their data networks on CDPD
(Cellular Digital Packet Data) technology are finding themselves shut out as CDPD
systems are gradually closed down in favor of 3G. Outfits that invested in CDPD
hardware are understandably unhappy about this change, and are wondering if
they are only setting themselves up for another round of obsolescence by
adopting 3G solutions. Other non-cellular companies are attempting to exploit
this opportunity by offering alternative wireless solutions based on a
combination of technologies that are independent of the cellular networks.
For example, MeshNetworks works on what amounts to a wireless
wide-area network (WAN) that can be built onto utility poles, rooftops and even
individual vehicles used as relay stations. Mobile Satellite Ventures owns its
own geosynchronous satellites that communicate with their hardware anywhere in
North America that one can see the sky.
There are so many choices available that the
administrator who has to make a commitment to one network type over another is
essentially taking a gamble not only that the chosen technology remains
effective, but also that the provider doesn’t get forced out of business by the
CODY introduced its new data-sharing package for law
enforcement agencies needing to communicate with one another’s databases, but
who have dissimilar records systems. Called COBRA, for Cody Online Basic
Regional Access, this system will work with virtually any existing
ODBC-compliant records system. COBRA is intended for situations where a
relatively small geographic area is served by multiple law enforcement agencies,
each of which maintains its own warrant files and other records needed by
An offender wanted by one jurisdiction can escape
arrest by simply avoiding officers from that department, even though he may be
operating only a short distance away. COBRA serves to bridge these systems and
make the information available to all participants, and without each agency
having to convert its records system or “buy into” a central records
The system is updated in real time, so a warrant that
is cleared will not show as active, even if the inquiry is made only a short
time later. This is an important factor for agencies concerned with civil
actions based on wrongful arrest. The system is also fully scalable to any
degree. CODY claims that any two databases in the United States could be
connected with a maximum of six “hops” between networks.
The speed of the system is limited only by the
bandwidth of the slowest network involved in the inquiry and response
transaction. Where state laws permit, officers in the field can “drill down”
into a table of returned information to see more detail on the warrant or
Visteon has been busy this last year, improving its
integrated system of patrol car electronics and communications systems. Visteon
is an automotive company that concentrates on the interior of the vehicle,
streamlining the interaction of the various components and making them more
ergonomically usable and convenient for the driver and passengers. Its public safety
product is called TACNET™.
The most evident manifestation of this technology in
the patrol car is the way that the interior is far less crowded with control
heads and panels. Except for the multifunction computer display mounted on the
dashboard, the interior of a TACNET-equipped patrol car is not noticeably
different from a stock vehicle. Closer inspection reveals a control pod mounted
on the console between the seats, a transparent index card-sized heads-up
display stuck to the windshield in front of the driver, and video cameras and
radar antennas mounted on the headliner.
Two other major features of TACNET are less obvious.
One is that the police-specific components of the car actually work together.
Virtually all functions of the car can be controlled from the computer display,
which is touch-sensitive. The display changes to a different configuration,
depending on the use at the time, with on-screen “buttons” controlling
For instance, the two-way radio’s volume, channel
setting, scanner mode and other functions are all controlled from this display.
A different screen shows the controls for the emergency lights and siren, with
several presets of light and siren combinations available instantly. The patrol
video system is run from this display, and also shows the image from the camera
or played back from the recorder here. Traffic radar output is displayed here,
and is integrated with the video system, so the speed of the target and patrol
vehicle are shown on the recorded video image if desired.
The heads-up display shows critical data to the driver
without the driver having to take his eyes off the road. The type of data
displayed changes depending on the mode of the vehicle. While driving, it might
show the output of the traffic radar system, but while on a traffic stop, the
text returns from an NCIC query.
The real gee-whiz feature, however, is the voice
interface system. Most of the functions of the TACNET cockpit can be controlled
without touching the computer display at all. When the voice interface is
activated from the control pod mounted between the front seats, nearly all
functions will respond to voice commands. This system works better than most
computer-voice interfaces, as it does not require any “training” to be able to
recognize commands spoken by people with dissimilar voices or regional accents.
The system is presently in use by the California Highway Patrol and Michigan
State Police, which had their demonstration vehicles and operators at the show.
There are a number of computer-based report writing
systems on the market, but many are dependent on a wireless network.
Departments without a wireless network, which are still most of them, are
largely excluded from this market. NetDelivery’s FormStream is a browser-based
system of forms that are customizable by the user, and can be used in either a
wireless networked environment or on stand-alone computers on desktops or in
FormStream allows users to create their own forms, so
an agency adopting this system doesn’t have to change its forms system to match
the software. The program supports output from Adobe Acrobat or OmniForm, both
of which convert paper forms into versions that can be completed on a computer.
When information for the report is available from a networked CAD system, the
software will extract the relevant data from the CAD record and use it to
populate the report form blanks.
Departments that don’t have a mobile data system can
still use FormStream. In these instances, officers record their files onto a
floppy disk, and then transfer the files from the floppy onto the NetDelivery
server when they reach the station. Settings in the program associate each
officer with the appropriate supervisor or other report reviewer, so when that person
logs on to the system, he will see if there are reports awaiting approval. If a
report is returned to the officer for some kind of deficiency, the officer will
get a similar notice when he logs on to the system.
Even if a report has not been approved, the
information in the report is available to selected users on the NetDelivery
server. For instance, an officer might complete a report on a high-profile case
and then go off duty. The report might
contain some minor deficiencies, but still have information useful to
detectives and the department’s PIO. Under some systems, the report would be
unavailable until it had been fully approved and the deficiencies corrected.
Under FormStream, the entire report is available, with the deficiencies flagged
so that possible erroneous data is highlighted.
FormStream reduces the number of errors in reports by
incorporating field data validation and pop-up help. For instance, if a field
requires both a time and a date, the program will not accept the entry until
all of this information is entered. Drop-down lists are used for forced choices
when data consistency is critical.
When a wireless network is available from the patrol
vehicle, FormStream can transmit a preliminary identification report to a
booking office before the officer arrives with the prisoner, speeding the
booking process. The software also tracks individuals due to appear in court,
and notifies the appropriate prosecutor if a witness has been jailed, so that
the necessary arrangements can be made to get them into court when needed.
FormStream incorporates a security feature called
DigiSeal. When a report file is saved for review by a supervisor, DigiSeal
creates a code based on the “hash value” of the file. Any change in the file
will alter this hash value and cause an alarm to appear when the DigiSeal
record is checked. This keeps unauthorized persons from entering any changes to
the report, while still making the report available for read-only review to a
larger group of users.
Wireless Security Systems
StopTech, the same company that produces the Stop
Stick® tire deflation device, has expanded into a new market with a portable
alarm system intended for use by law enforcement. The Centurion Scout™ is a
portable, wireless security system that can be deployed at nearly any location
in a few minutes, and then retrieved just as quickly for use at another site.
The system is contained in a shock- and water-resistant Pelican® case, and
consists of several transmitters and a central receiver device.
Each transmitter is activated by a duress button, a
motion detector, or other sensors such as a smoke detector, glass break
detector, bill trap or temperature sensor. The user deploying the alarm units
programs a unique code into each one, and can also record a voice message that
will be transmitted if the alarm is triggered. The central control unit records
each alarm trip (and stores up to 200 events, each with a text message of up to
80 characters), but the transmitters also send the unique voice message to
standard two-way radios.
Instead of having to keep a dispatcher or other alarm
monitor on duty to oversee the system, officers within the operational area of
the Centurion system will hear a message over their radios that gives the
precise location and nature of the alarm. This could be an extremely useful
tool when a threat against a specific target is received. Officers who would be stationed at the scene
on surveillance can instead go about their regular duties, and be alerted
instantly if the alarm is tripped. If there is already voice traffic over the
radio circuit, the voice alarm will stand by its transmission until the channel
The system will operate from a self-contained battery,
from an automobile battery circuit, or from a wall socket. If the external power source fails, the
internal battery will take over, and will recharge when external power is
restored. The internal battery will function on its own for up to 40 hours. The
central unit periodically polls each remote transmitter to ensure that it is
still in range and that its own battery has a charge. If a unit fails to
respond or sends a low battery warning, the event is recorded. Centurion will
interface with a standard PC through a serial, USB, Ethernet or modem connection.
The system can also be set to operate up to four external systems, such as
lights or video cameras, when activated.
Compensation for police work varies tremendously
across the country, and until the pay gets considerably better for officers at
the lower end of the scale, off duty employment will continue to be a reality.
There is no standard for the way these arrangements are handled. In some
situations, the officers are considered private contractors who market their
services to individual businesses, and are sometimes paid “off the books.”
Other departments schedule their officers for the off duty or “pay job”
assignments, collect the fees from the employers, and pay the officers through
the usual payroll channels.
Departments that handle the assignments and payroll
through their internal administration are often troubled by conflicts over
fairness in assignments, schedules that clash with regular law enforcement
duties, and uncollectible accounts from deadbeat employers. JivaSoft, a company
known primarily for scheduling software, has created a package called Xtra Duty
that is specifically designed for management of outside employment schedules in
Xtra Duty ensures that assignments are offered and
made fairly, according to rules established by the user. Because some assignments are considered to be
more lucrative and desirable than others, this feature alone could reduce
dissension within the ranks. The software can be set to pay for itself by
automating the collection of administrative fees from employers, based on a
percentage of wages, hours billed, per-job or some combination of these
factors. Invoices for completed jobs are created automatically, as are
reminders for previous bills and unpaid invoices. Payroll information can be
exported directly into most computer-based payroll systems, or input manually
from a report printed from the program.
Tim Dees is a
former officer who writes and consults about applications of technology in law
enforcement. He can be reached at (509) 585-6704 or by e-mail at