Serve and protect
In-car police video-recording systems traditionally have suffered from a few deficiencies: The video resolution is VHS-quality at best, lacking the detail needed for facial recognition and for retransmission on local TV newscasts. The VHS recorders are out of date, and their tapes are difficult to store and slow to search for specific sequences. Finally, these systems are not always reliable, especially in harsh weather conditions and high-speed chases where trunk-mounted VCRs can get jostled.
Recent moves to digital video systems have resulted in better quality video and more robust digital video recorders (DVRs), which record images as files that can be server-stored and shared across police networks. However, law-enforcement agencies in Emporia, Va., Calcasieu Parish, La., and Charlottesville, Va., still were not satisfied. In addition to digital video files, these departments wanted broadcast-quality, in-car video that was easy to upload, store and access. They also wanted these digital files effectively to be tamperproof, so that no one could accuse the departments of doctoring evidence video after the fact.
To meet these requirements, all three departments installed the DP-2 Digital Patroller system made by Digital Safety Technologies (DST). “We wanted a server-based solution with high-quality video and robust equipment that was simple to manage,” said Capt. Todd Anderson of the Emporia Police Department, which has about 20 cars fitted with the DP-2. “This system meets these requirements nicely.”
The DP-2 consists of a trunk-mounted DVR and dash-mounted display unit; a high-resolution camera that can be mounted in myriad locations and a low-resolution camera designed to keep tabs on back-seat passengers; wired and wireless microphones, the latter of which features a remote triggering device; and DPView video-management software.
The DP-2 DVR is available in hard-disk-drive or solid-state-drive versions. The solid-state drive has no moving parts, making it more suitable for departments working in rough road conditions. Both versions are available in single- or dual-drive configurations. Each DVR can support up to four video cameras to provide multi-angle recordings that can show what’s happening all around and inside the vehicle. The recordings can be viewed and annotated — but not altered — on the car’s 4.5-inch LCD screen.
“The display unit is designed such that you can add incident information to a video, using a series of pull-down menus,” said Blaine Cosgro, a detective with the Charlottesville Police Department, which has equipped 200 cars. “You can also plug the DVR’s feed into a laptop computer, and view the video on there.”
When activated, the DVR automatically records the vehicle’s speed, GPS location and the time of day. In standby mode, the DP-2 system constantly captures video and audio through the cameras and microphones, always holding the last 30 seconds in its buffer. This means that whenever the system is triggered — by the officer, the activation of the car’s lights, an impact, or sudden braking or acceleration — whatever happened up to 30 seconds prior is permanently saved to the DVR. This ensures that viewers don’t just see what happened when the officer reacted, but also the stimulus to which he reacted.
The high-resolution main camera is comparable to a standard definition (4:3 picture ratio) broadcast television camera, according to the company. It offers 346,000 pixels/480 lines of video resolution and a 22x optical/220x digital zoom that is controlled by the platform’s dash-mounted display. It also offers built-in heaters; functionally, the weatherproof camera can operate in temperatures ranging from -4 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit.
The smaller 85,000 pixels/420-line passenger camera is designed to cover the rear seat, where the prisoners are held. It has a built-in, infrared lighting array for capturing video in total darkness, ensuring that the prisoners’ actions — and treatment — always are being documented.
The DP-2’s wired microphones are mounted in the car, to capture whatever is said there. The officers wear the 2.4 GHz wireless microphones, which have a 1,500-foot, line-of-sight transmission range. Again, the 30-second buffer means that if an officer finds himself in an altercation away from the car, he can still document what happened to spark the event by pressing his wearable triggering device.
The system’s trunk-mounted DVR records high quality audio and video, and can hold up to 24 hours of content at a time. Transferring the data to the department’s server is accomplished in one of two ways: each patrol car can roll up to an outdoor Ethernet cable, plug it in and have its video files automatically uploaded; or, the data can be transferred wirelessly at the department’s Wi-Fi hot spots. Both methods are an improvement over the traditional approach, which is to remove the data drives from the DVR and connect them directly to the server, a less-efficient and time-consuming process. If the file transfer is interrupted by the car having to leave suddenly, the system simply picks up where the upload ended next time around. Once the upload is done, the DVR is wiped clean.
Once the data has been transferred to the department’s server, video can be viewed by senior officers on authorized workstations, using DST’s DPView software. The system prevents any altering of the data, which ensures that any DP-2-generated video used in court can be certified as accurate and tamper-free. However, should anyone attempt to make any changes to the video the system automatically and irrevocably will log the attempt. This is a plus, as police and sheriff’s departments discourage evidence tampering; recording the attempt lets officials investigate why it occurred.
The three departments cited above all believe the system has made them more effective. For instance, thanks to its broadcast quality video, drunk-driving convictions have gone up substantially. “We also have seen a substantial drop in citizen complaints, simply because we can now see exactly what happened in these cases,” said Lt. David Benada of the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Department, which has equipped 150 cars. “In instances where officers have made errors, we can find out what happened and correct it, and use the video to train other officers, as well.”
The video’s broadcast quality means that it can be sent to local TV stations for use on-air. Such releases not only give the public an accurate view of what their police are dealing with, but they also help to polish the police’s image in the process.
The proof of this can be seen in some of the video clips posted on DST’s Web site (www.digitalsafetytech.com). They include raw police footage, plus news broadcasts in which the anchors comment on what they (and the viewers) have just seen. A case in point: One video sequence shot through a patrol car windshield shows an apprehended suspect viciously attack and injure an officer — who subsequently required plastic surgery — while resisting arrest. Later, the suspect is fatally shot as a result of his actions.
Yet, based on the video provided by the DP-2 systems, the anchor did not condemn the police officer’s actions. Instead, she commented that the “dash-cam video appears to justify that shooting.”