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I see you: Tactical video systems
By Dave Douglas
The latest tactical video systems offer sophisticated imaging capabilities in lightweight, portable packages.
Back when I was a young officer, I worked in the beach area of my city. One day as I pulled my patrol car up to the boardwalk area, I saw a young guy about my age toss away a baggie containing a "green vegetable matter." The presence of my car had spooked him, and he took off like a shot down the boardwalk. I called for backup, got out of the car, took off after him on foot, and we went tearing down the boardwalk, across a street, and into an alleyway.
We were both running fast and strong, feet pounding the pavement, and I was gaining on him. Then I saw him turn a corner and disappear between the houses. I should have sensed danger, but I was a rookie and pumped by the adrenaline of the chase. I sprinted around the same corner. And Boom! My lights went out.
When they came back on (and dimly), my sergeant was helping the ambulance crew put me into the back of a meat wagon for a trip to see my wife, a nurse at the local emergency room.
The investigation that followed revealed that the suspect had turned that corner, picked up a two-by-four, counted to six (the number of seconds I was behind him), swung for the fences, and caught me smack dab in the forehead. Fortunately, the damage wasn't permanent. But I learned not to go charging around blind corners in hot pursuit of fleeing suspects.
I really could have used a tool that let me see around corners that day. And now, today's cops can have them. You're probably thinking to yourself, this was a spur-of-the-moment foot chase, so how could you have used some bulky, unwieldy tactical video system? The answer is they're not that bulky anymore and they're much easier to use.
Tactical video systems have been a tool in the police utility belt for some time now, but they haven't always been practical. Some of the older portable video units were "portable" in name only. They required an expensive robot or a really stout operator just to carry them. And as if that didn't make them difficult enough to use, most were hard wired and required long cabling and reels.
In contrast, the newest tactical video units are much smaller and offer an agency more uses than older systems. They're lightweight, versatile, wireless (although many can be hard wired when necessary), and extremely adaptable to almost any police video application.
But are they really for patrol use? The nature of a tactical team's mission usually allows its members to have that extra time to deploy specialized equipment for looking around corners and into other places. A patrol officer doesn't have that kind of time.
The answer is, maybe. As you will see in the following look at tactical video systems, the ability to see around corners without mirrors is no longer just available to special units.
CamLite Corp. offers a small, handheld camera system that has applications for both patrol and tactical operations. The company's namesake product, "the CamLite," looks like a regular police flashlight, but it's also a video camera and a 2.4-gigahertz wireless transmitter.
One of the most useful features of the CamLite is the range of its transmitter. A patrol officer holding a CamLight can view images on the built-in monitor and send them to a monitor in his or her supervisor's car from a range of up to 1,000 feet. The CamLite System is also compatible with some existing in-car video systems. This makes the product even more attractive to your department's bean counters by enhancing officer safety on traffic stops, domestic violence investigations, and DUI stops, and by providing defensive evidence to combat "he said, she said" citizen complaints.
Weighing in at slightly more than a pound, the CamLight is as easy to carry as a full-size flashlight. It features a rechargeable battery pack that packs two hours of juice for flashlight-only use and four hours of camera-only use.
DTC Communications has mated its FLIR ThermoVision Scout camera system with a wireless transmitter to create the Wireless FLIR ThermoVision Scout. The ThermoVision Scout is a handheld passive infrared receiver that gives individual officers or tactical teams thermal imaging capabilities that only the military could afford a few years ago.
Some thermal imaging systems are intimidatingly difficult to use, but the ThermoVision Scout is as easy to handle as a flashlight. With very little muss or fuss, this new infrared camera allows you to see suspects or victims clearly in complete darkness, smoke, through foliage, and under low-visibility conditions at distances of up to 1,200 feet. The Scout's exclusive InstAlert feature highlights warm objects, such as people or vehicles, in red for immediate operator attention.
DTC Communications has taken the capabilities of the ThermoVision Scout and elevated them to the next level by linking the 1.5-pound device with a wireless transmitter and receiver to create the Wireless FLIR ThermoVision Scout.
One of the problems inherent with radio frequency (RF) transmission is multipath interference. The signals coming from the outgoing antenna will bounce off hard objects such as walls, cars, buildings, or even people. This means that the same signal is coming back to the receiver at different times. The result is a signal as garbled as a conversation in which your sergeant, lieutenant, captain, and spouse are all talking to you at once. DTC has eliminated this problem in the Wireless FLIR ThermoVision Scout through an application of proprietary technology that cleans up the signal.
Instrument Technology Inc.
Instrument Technology Inc. (ITI) specializes in the design, development, and manufacture of high-quality Borescopes, Fiberscopes, and Videoscopes for inspection or observation into hostile environments or inaccessible areas. The company's equipment is a mainstay for industrial applications, but ITI also offers a comprehensive selection of instruments for law enforcement.
ITI's video systems are in use in a variety of police operations, including surveillance, contraband search, bomb inspection, and SWAT. The modular design of the system makes it an extremely effective and versatile tool. For example, a tactical team can use the under-door camera head attached to ITI's telescoping kit to slide a viewer under a closed door to see if a suspect is standing on the other side. The telescoping pole provides the added safety of letting the officers stand back 10 to 12 feet in case the bad guy sees the probe and shoots in its general direction. Once the camera is in position, it can be used to provide the team with real-time intelligence about the location of the bad guys, their weapons, and the presence of hostages or other innocents.
All of this information can be sent by the camera head back to a handheld monitor or to a heads-up display (HUD). The HUD consists of a small 320x240 pixel, 16-bit color display that attaches to the included Wiley X goggles and a power supply. This gives the operator hands-free viewing, so that he can carry a weapon or operate another tool. Additionally, the signal can be broadcast back to the command post, so that the incident commander has a clear picture of the situation.
A number of optional attachments are available for the ITI system, including infrared cameras that feature their own built-in light sources, fiberoptic video lenses that are small enough to insert through a crack in a wall, and through-the-wall and through-the-ceiling scopes. The company even makes a tripod mounted camera that can be set up as a remote stationary sentinel.
Search Systems makes a variety of portable video systems that are used in law enforcement applications, but its two primary police products are the Searchcam 2000 IR and the Searchcam Patrol System.
The Searchcam 2000 IR is an extremely sophisticated pole-mounted audio and video system designed for use by police and military tactical teams. Its features include a high-resolution video camera head with non-visible infrared illumination, a telescoping probe that can be inserted into a 1.75-inch opening, a pole that extends to 92 inches and collapses to 41 inches, a 5-inch LCD monitor, and a sensitive microphone that can detect whispers in the same room and breathing sounds from a few feet. A heads-up display is available as an option.
Lighter and smaller than the Searchcam 2000 IR, the Searchcam Patrol System is designed for use by patrol officers. Like the more sophisticated Searchcam 2000 IR, the Patrol System features a black-and-white video camera with infrared illumination, an articulating probe head, and a detachable LCD video display. However, the Patrol System is video only and its probe only extends to 66 inches. Because it is smaller, collapsing to 31 inches, the Patrol System fits easily in the trunk of a standard patrol car.
Smith & Wesson
Smith and Wesson is one of the best known names in Law Enforcement. Of course, you know that. But what you might not know is that the maker of police pistols, knives, handcuffs, and bicycles produces a tactical video system called Tactical Vision.
The Tactical Vision system consists of a telescoping, 12-foot, nonconducting probe with foam grips, a pivoting camera head, and a shaded 3.5-inch LCD monitor. If you have a need to videotape the image or attach a second monitor, an RCA jack provides that access.
One of the more interesting features of Tactical Vision is its battery compartment design. The system employs a unique slide-through battery system that allows battery exchange without losing power for those critical times that you need to keep capturing an image but are running low on power.
Another great feature of Tactical Vision is that it comes with its own light source. If you are dealing with a poorly lit location (as we usually are), Tactical Vision's built in LED light array on the camera head will illuminate the subject. If a low-key presence is required, an infrared version is available that will allow you to see more than 30 feet in total darkness.
S&W's Tactical Vision is designed to be compact and easy to handle. When disassembled and stowed, it easily fits into the trunk of a vehicle.
Tactical Electronics produces equipment for tactical operators and only tactical operators. The company does not sell its products to the general public or to industrial clients. Its sole focus is producing equipment for military and law enforcement applications, and it makes some really great tools.
Take, for example, the Tactical Electronics PCSS1 Wireless Pole Camera Search System. This system operates in both encrypted and non-encrypted modes, it's modular, and it features a pole that can be extended from 23 inches to 8 feet. The pole is manageable at such lengths because there are no battery belt packs or external cables to entangle the operator.
Applications for Tactical Electronics' video systems are numerous. The camera heads are waterproof to 30 feet and very well suited to marine work. Fiber scopes are available for bomb tech applications. And the company makes a wireless camera system with a .265-inch thick insertion panel that can be placed under a door in such a way that the occupants of the room can't see it. The system includes a very wide field-of-view camera that yields a high-quality image in little- or no- light environments.
Four display options are available for Tactical Electronics' systems. The company can custom mount monitors in a vehicle to outfit it as a mobile command post. The portable systems come equipped with a built-in 5.5-inch LCD monitor. In addition, a headset is available that gives the wearer an almost big screen look at what the camera is seeing. Finally, Tactical Electronics can provide the tactical operator with the very latest in SWAT jewelry, a wrist-wearable monitor. The wrist monitor has a 2.5-inch, high-resolution screen and a built-in receiver that requires no external wires, cables, or antennae.
Zistos Corp. offers a full line of portable video systems. The Zistos WPD-15 display, Flex 'n' Stay Camera Systems are one-man portable CCTV systems consisting of a 15-inch LCD display, a unique Flex 'n' Stay body for remote viewing, and a small self-illuminating video camera that can be mounted on either a telescoping pole, wand, baton, or flexible coil. Each portable system can be configured with interchangeable pole and coil bodies, camera heads, or other options. Zistos also offers a walk-about system with a 4-inch screen.
The Zistos portable video systems are also modular, and they give the operators a wide range of choices. Zistos sells self-illuminating surveillance cameras and a choice of five different submersible cameras that also provide their own lighting by using LEDs arrayed in a ring around the lens. Whatever your department's needs are for portable tactical video, there are systems available that can be customized to meet them. They range from small handheld units to modular wireless systems that can handle a whole range of duties. One thing is for sure. They can save lives.
Sgt. Dave Douglas is a 25-year veteran of the San Diego Police Department and a POLICE magazine contributing editor.