03/07/2005

Digital video recorders give more reliable, accurate footage to police

Trace Christenson
The Enquirer

From his desk and days later, Battle Creek Police Commander James Saylor can hear exactly what three officers were yelling at a man with a knife.

The 45-year-old suspect was threatening his former girlfriend as the officers, guns drawn, ordered him to release her and drop the knife.

The 26 seconds were chaotic as all the officers shouted at the man and the woman screamed until she pushed away. A single shot from one of the officers wounded the suspect and after a struggle, he was arrested.

Saylor, supervisor of the investigations division, wasn''t there but as the department investigates the incident, he can listen to each of the officers because of a new digital video recording system just installed in the department''s patrol cars.

"It makes access to the recovered information much easier to review," Saylor said.

The system from Coban Research and Technologies in Stafford, Texas, replaces a mechanical videotape system installed six years ago with limited capabilities and prone to breakdowns.

"It was a mechanical device and we had trouble with them out of the gate," Saylor said.

"The other system was breaking down," Commander Jackie Hampton agreed. "I would speculate that with that VHS system, we would not have been able to distinguish what was said. This shooting is the best example of the advantage of the new system. With the VHS, trying to understand the three officers would have been impossible."

The department spent about $210,000 for the digital system now installed in 27 patrol cars. Most of the money is from a state law enforcement grant.

Hampton said for a year, the department considered replacing the videotape system or trying to make repairs.

"We looked at three or four major vendors and the decision was made that this is the best product," he said.

Saylor said the digital system is more reliable and using computers gives the department easier access to the collected video and audio.

Video quality is good and while the range for the audio with the old system was less than 200 feet, the range increases to 5,000 feet with the digital system.

"With the old system, you could have three officers and not be able to understand what they were saying," Hampton said. "With the digital system, you could have up to 20 officers and could tell what each of them are saying. And 90 percent of our complaints are about something that the officers said, so as in the case of the shooting, that becomes significant because the officers gave the suspect several warnings and the audio becomes important."

Saylor said the digital system allows storage and playback on fewer DVDs compared with about 2,500 videotapes which had to be maintained by the department.

Finding an incident is easier using a computer than searching through videotape and Saylor said the new system is more secure from tampering.

Hampton said installation of the digital system began about three weeks ago and will continue into next year for supervisors'' vehicles.

"It is going to take some adjustment, but so far it''s a great system."

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