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October 23, 2012
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John Rivera Technology Helpdesk
with John Rivera

The rise of video in policing

Video technology is moving ahead so fast it is difficult to keep pace

Portable video cameras have greatly evolved over the years. We all know the newer cameras can record video that can be better than any movie filmed in the 1960s.

The first video cameras available to the public were large, shaped like a brick and heavy. The camera required the operator to carry a briefcase-like bag with a cord tied to it for the "video tape” and battery for the camera.

When I was 16 years old I worked at Disneyland and saw dads carrying these large contraptions and thought to myself, “No way. How much fun can you have carrying that?”

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21st Century Technology
That was about 30 years ago, and technology as we know has changed a bit. Video recording has moved from the tape, to CD, to memory stick. I have read where some airports are offering movie rentals transferred from a kiosk to your flash drive, for a fee.

Video technology is moving ahead so fast it is difficult to keep pace. Now most of us carry a video camera wherever we go in a cell phone. And some of those recordings are better than any tape recorded in the 80s. As I have mentioned in one of my earlier articles, there is more computing power in a smartphone than what was used to land a man on the moon.

Law enforcement caught up with video recording in the  80s and saw the advantage but there is always another side to progression. Video has helped solve crimes, record criminals in the act and even caught officers in unethical activity.

The cameras used in patrol cars also have evolved and shrunk in size but the quality of video has been greatly enhanced. How many of us have watched any of the current “real video cop shows” where cops chase and arrest bad guys? Sometimes the video is so clear you can almost put yourself right there with the officer on TV. Admit it — you’ve watched those shows from time to time.

My point is that currently video has almost become a requirement in any criminal matter. We all know about the clarity of High Definition (HD) video; even the clarity of regular video can be jaw dropping.

Imagine having this technology in 1963. Could we have seen a second shooter in Dallas, if there was one?

Worth Millions of Words (and Dollars)
Juries love to see photos and watch videos. We have been conditioned to almost require video to make a proper judgment. So, many Law Enforcement agencies, businesses, banks, even medical facilities have video capabilities to ensure safety and enhance suspect identification if needed.

So how small are cameras now? I’m sure many of you have watched the first Mission Impossible movie, where Jon Voight plays the chief agent, Jim Phelps. He puts on a pair of fancy glasses with a video camera on it. The clarity of those particular scenes is questionable but the technology does exist and I am sure the clarity and definition is not far behind or not already here.

TASER has developed a camera that attaches to an officer’s less lethal device to record incidents. 

Now the defense attorney’s well dressed, well groomed and sober client will have to think twice before testifying in Court that the officer was unjust in his actions because “the client” was not intoxicated, obstinate or physically threatening in any way shape or form during his contact with that officer.

As a matter of fact, some agencies already have officer-mounted cameras. I am sure you have seen the video taken from the officer’s point of view inside a police station during an incident where a suicidal man enters with a knife. Thankfully the man was taken into protective custody without injuries to anyone but it clearly shows the public the officer’s actual “point of view” (POV) from the moment the incident began until it ended.

The reason I bring up that point is because the public tends to make a judgment when they watch a video involving Police. For example a video taken in San Francisco where an armed man had shot at officers while running away from them but the only video released was of the suspect lying in a pool of blood after an officer or officers had shot him. The public generally never sees the video that shows the confrontation leading up to the non lethal or lethal action. So, officers are usually judged negatively by the public for their action or lack of action.

With officer mounted cameras those judgments can be changed in a moment. For some smaller agencies the camera capturing a video from the officer’s perspective may even save the agency, city or county money in overtime or officer(s) time lost. Once “the client” has knowledge of a video showing the behavior during an encounter “the client” can then make the “proper” decision.

Case in point: a recent article I read on PoliceOne described how a woman was filing a formal complaint against several officers for their inaction. Fortunately, for those officers one of them was wearing a camera that recorded the entire exchange. Once the woman discovered the existence of a video showing her behavior that evening she dropped the complaint.

Had this particular officer not had that camera recording who knows what the outcome may have been? It’s safe to say that had her complaint been pursued, it could have cost that city some serious dollars in a settlement (or court decision!).

TASER AXON FLEX
Several manufacturers offer officer-mounted video cameras, but the one I would like to briefly focus on here is the TASER AXON FLEX.

This is a camera several agencies are now using and can be adapted to be worn on Oakley sunglasses or other Oakley eye safety wear. The camera can also be adapted to be a dash cam, worn on an officer’s lapel, ball cap, headset or any other convenient manner. It is a versatile system that allows the camera holder to stream video real time to a smartphone app. The camera has a wide angle lens that can be used at night and cloudy days with little to no loss of resolution and is weather resistant.

TASER is just one of several manufacturers who are focusing on Law Enforcement as potential customers. Some manufacturers offer cameras that are the size of a cigarette pack and are attached to an outer garment.

As police officers and as a private citizen we all know we have the potential to be recorded at any time, anywhere. Sounds like shades of George Orwell’s book, “1984” but it is a reality. Most everyone has a cell phone with a camera and those people love to record police activity.

Most businesses have cameras installed outside their buildings. As I mentioned before those recordings can be biased against the officer just because it only partially shows the incident.

TASER and the other makers of officer-mounted cameras have the ability to exonerate officers against false claims of misbehavior by recording and later showing the entire event. Hopefully these recordings can help the public form an educated opinion on why an officer took a certain action during a particular incident.

About the author

John Rivera is a Patrol Officer with the Bremerton Police Department. John’s career BPD started as a Volunteer Reserve Officer and while he volunteered his time as a reserve officer he work as Police Officer at Naval Base Kitsap. He was hired full time in 2006 and attended the Washington State Police Academy. While at the academy, John was selected as the class “Techy” to help with the technologically deficient class instructors. Before John’s law enforcement career, he gained his computer experience through earning a degree in Computer Programming and then working in the computer industry as a Network Administrator and Systems Engineer for several companies.

Contact John Rivera

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