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The Latest in Mobile Digital Video

Officer safety and professional conduct with agency accountability.

The Latest in Mobile Digital Video
By: Susan Geoghegan

By accurately documenting sequence of events, mobile-video camera technology enhances officer safety, reinforces professionalism in officer conduct, and improves agency accountability. An IACP report on the impact of in-car cameras on state police and highway patrol agencies pointed to additional benefits that included improved community and media perceptions, strengthened police leadership, and advancement in technology policies and procedures.

Mobile Video Technology and Law Enforcement

A 2007 census of state and local agencies conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed that 61 percent of local police departments were regularly using video camera systems in their patrol cars. Since that figure was up seven percentage points from their 2003 census, we can assume that the 2012 Census will indicate continued expansion into mobile video patrol technology by law enforcement agencies.

According to Dave Poulin, Panasonic System Communications Company of North America’s Director of Business Operations for Security and Evidence Capture, in-car video technology is becoming a standard tool in law enforcement. In fact, the increased adoption of video camera technologies is spilling over into other related fields, such as arson investigation and fire inspection. “We see this trend continuing, as other professionals recognize the advantages of both in-car and wearable video systems,” Poulin said.

The use of body-worn camera systems is on the rise as many law enforcement professionals view them as a valuable supplement to in-vehicle video cameras. Marketing Director for Data911 Mobile Computer Systems, Lee Warner, said both technologies serve a need. “In-vehicle video does not always see what the officer sees, but does show the officer’s movements and a good overview of the scene from the vehicle. In contrast, the body-worn camera does a good job of showing the forward view of the officer, but not a good scene view.  In summary, they both complement each other.”

Greg Dyer, National Sales Manager for Digital Ally, pointed out that while in-car video systems have become widely accepted, officer response to body-worn systems has been extremely enthusiastic. “The popularity of cell phone videos that rarely capture all of the important events during an incident has left many officers wanting the ability to record their own perspective, and the more views or angles you have of an incident, the better you can illustrate what actually happened,” Dyer stated. “The combination of in-car and body-worn systems has been particularly desirable to departments that integrate all of the recordings into the same evidence management software.”

According to Poulin, in-vehicle cameras record video from a third-party perspective, while body-worn systems record events from the officer’s perspective. “Advanced in-car video systems can utilize up to five cameras simultaneously, and can activate recording automatically due to predefined triggers—such as when the siren is turned on.” Not limited by battery life, in-car systems can store thousands of hours of video via in-car solid state recorders, which can then be wirelessly transmitted to station servers, or automatically burned onto a DVD. 

Conversely, wearable camera systems are designed to be unobtrusive, go wherever the officer goes, and provide optimal mobility and flexibility. However, their smaller size means they naturally have less battery life and recording capacity than an in-car system. The compact battery pack (Panasonic’s weighs only 5 ounces) offers a battery life of approximately five hours in pre-event continuous record mode (or longer when not in this mode) and a recording capacity of up to 32 hours using H.264 compression.

“Advanced models offer image stabilization and image distortion correction all while maintaining the evidence integrity of the original file, resolving the problem of jostling movements that can make the videos in other devices more difficult to view after recording. They can be activated with the push of a button or pre-set for automatic activation based on certain settings,” Poulin explained.

Adapting to the Technology

As the above surveys and studies reveal, most law enforcement professionals view video camera technology as a vital part of policing. Mike Burridge, a retired Police Chief and VP of Sales and Marketing for L-3 Communications, agrees that agencies understand the real value this type of technology provides from not just a documentation and training standpoint, but from a liability standpoint as well.

“Time and time again, the video provides evidence of officers performing their duties in a professional manner under difficult conditions. In the past, one of the obstacles law enforcement agencies faced in obtaining in-car video was the ability to obtain the community’s acceptance. In today’s world, communities not only accept the technology in the modern-day police vehicle but, in some cases, demand it.”

From the evaluation phase to system deployment to effective training, the process of implementing mobile-video camera technology can be overwhelming. And since most police agencies must work within a budget, technology choices are often limited. In order to determine which video system is right for their needs, agencies should research their options and work closely with the vendor for guidance during system setup and implementation, and ensure that training and ongoing tech support will be available.

As SVP of Marketing & Business Development for Coban Technologies, Inc., David Hinojosa finds that one of the major challenges facing agencies is their expectations of what the system can do and how it is going to be used. “You still have many agencies that have never had in-car video or are looking to transition from analog. There are big differences from a standalone DVR to a digital video solution. A good digital video solution should help streamline and automate operations. Sometimes it’s difficult to wrap your head around the access points and servers, but in the end it will pay off,” Hinojosa said.

Adam Rushlow, Communications Director for WatchGuard Video, stressed the importance of gaining a full knowledge of not just the products available, but the mobile video industry as a whole. He recommends agencies do extensive research, navigate all the options, evaluate the systems, and confirm that after-purchase support is available. “WatchGuard works closely with agencies to ensure a successful deployment. We have a full-time technical services team and customer support staff available to make first-time deployments a success,” Rushlow said.

Burridge emphasizes the importance of involving all of the potential stakeholders that may be impacted by the acquisition of the technology. He said that in addition to administrators, supervisors, officers, trainers, and forensic video examiners, it is critical to consult IT personnel who can provide valuable knowledge and assistance.

“The IT staff is frequently left out of the acquisition process and this unfortunately can have a major impact on the success of the entire program. Adding new technologies comes at a significant cost and by involving and empowering the stakeholders impacted by this acquisition, an agency has a greater chance of gaining support and acceptance for this project,” Burridge said.

Another feature to consider when purchasing new technology is the scalability of the system. For example, WatchGuard offers a fully scalable high-definition video system that can be deployed by a smaller agency with secure manual USB transfer and a software system that allows video management without a server. As departmental needs change, wireless transfer capability can be added to that same system, allowing video to be uploaded wirelessly to the server-based software program with full case management. Rushlow said WatchGuard customers range from rural departments with just two or three cars to large metro PD and state patrols, such as the Pennsylvania State Police.

According to Jason Smith, Martel Electronics Law Enforcement Division, many agencies prefer purchasing complete systems from one vendor to prevent costly repair and replacement. “Departments are tired of replacing low quality patchwork systems combining components from different manufacturers that need to be switched out repeatedly. Even if the retailer offers an extended warranty for free, it's too much trouble and leads to down time,” said Smith. Martel also provides support to ensure successful implementation of their products. “In the last year we have successfully outfitted small, medium, and large departments including one of our most advanced space exploration facilities (Vandenberg AFB), in California, with wireless video uploading and driver license scanning technology.

Key Features of In-Vehicle Camera Systems

The core capabilities of mobile video technology, such as multiple cameras, high-resolution imaging, enhanced color monitors, and wireless mic systems can be enhanced with additional features. Product Manager for the Federal Signal Corporation, Jason Annes, stated that GPS location stamping is a must-have for in-car video systems as it pinpoints where the recorded video or incident occurred.

“Federal Signal offers GPS location stamping as a standard feature in the DTX In-Car Video System. In addition, Federal Signal’s DTX-COMMAND software allows for live video streaming, enabling computers at the station to monitor officer’s cameras in the field giving an extra eye on the scene when needed.”

Live video streaming allows continuous real-time transfer of video over wireless broadband for instant sharing of information. According to Anatoly Delm, Senior Product Marketing Manager for Motorola Solutions, the company’s Real-Time Video Intelligence (RTVI) software can be used to stream real-time, in-car video back to the command center, other vehicles, or handheld devices.

“RTVI was designed from the ground up to transmit live, real-time video (no buffering) over wireless broadband,” he said. “That means we had to overcome challenges like bandwidth variations due to topography, distance from the tower, weather conditions, etc., as well as competing demands for bandwidth from other users.”

COBAN offers live-streaming function that allows dispatchers to watch field activities through in-car cameras at critical moments, as well as an optional map-based interface that provides additional location information of every patrol car in the field. “In the future, a browser-based AVL function will be integrated with video streaming. The in-car streaming function does not require departments to purchase addition hardware, as long as the departments already have 3G/4G connections in the patrol cars,” Hinojosa said.

Agencies also have to determine how they will store the large volumes of digital footage captured by the video system. Whether opting for in-house or “cloud” data storage, footage must be stored in a highly secure, easily accessible environment. As Annes pointed out, in-house storage is the fastest way to offload videos from a vehicle to the department. “Whether the storage device is directly connected or connected via WiFi, it will offload quickly to an in-house server, where offloading to the cloud will depend on broadband speeds available to the department. 

Additionally, because of chain-of-evidence issues, an in-house server is firmly in the department’s control where a cloud-based server adds additional layers to control and document.  However, because of a cloud server’s easy expandability, higher reliability and lower maintenance costs, we expect to see cloud-based storage to show up more at departments with smaller IT staffs,” Annes said.

Michael Winegardner, International Sales and Marketing Manager for Decatur Electronics, Inc., also recommend in-house storage. “When dealing with evidential data, the benefits of on-site IT professionals, as well the plug-and-play accessibility of hard drives, outweigh the possible problems of Cloud storage. The capacity is ever-increasing and size is ever-decreasing for HDD.”

In addition, departments can protect the HDDs from theft and hazards (such as fire) and are accessible by approved officers only. “Cloud-based data is well protected; however, the threat of hacking is increasing as well as the sophistication of the attacks. Departments are also dependent upon the reliability of the services provided to access cloud-based data,” Winegardner said.

The Future of Digital Mobile Video Technology

To remain industry leaders, it is essential for companies to adopt new technologies in order to meet the constantly changing needs of their customer base. As law enforcement continues to embrace these new technologies, agencies will rely on scalable solutions that can easily integrate with existing systems.

According to David Nicholl, Safety Vision’s Law Enforcement Product Manager, new technologies on the horizon for patrol video technology include increased capacity and decreased cost of solid-state storage technology, and increased speed and availability of mobile data networks, such as 4G LTE, enabling more Web-based services. He also foresees the introduction of IP camera technology in mobile environments that will allow for streamlined cabling systems and greater resolution, as well as integrated body-worn cameras with high-definition video.

As more agencies operating on a limited budget look to acquire these new technologies, access to grant money takes on greater significance. Many of the vendor websites have links to grant information, and some provide direct coordinator assistance. The National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) and the CJIS Group are two more resources that provide extensive information on the types of grants available and links to resources on grant writing.

Susan Geoghegan is a freelance writer living in Naples, Fla. She can be reached at

Published in Law and Order, Jun 2013

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