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November 12, 2013
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Tim Dees Police Tech & Gear
with Tim Dees

Google Glass comes to law enforcement

The first arrest recorded with a Google Glass device is now on YouTube

Just as patrol car video recorders evolved from basketball-sized camcorders bolted to the dashboard to a gadget that fits inside the rear view mirror, body-worn recorders are already getting smaller, more versatile, and more manageable. Though not yet available for retail sale, Google Glass may be the next generation of bodycam, and there has already been a live field test of Google Glass in a Georgia law enforcement agency.

Google Glass is one of the company’s rare ventures into hardware. The device is a head-mounted computer, built into a housing that looks like a pair of sport glasses without the lenses. Most of the electronics are contained in the bows of the frame that run between the temples and ears.

A clear window display, roughly 0.5 x 1 inch, sits in front of the wearer’s right eye. The display reflects the projection of a prism mounted into the frame, so the wearer sees the display elements superimposed over his normal field of vision. The frame houses a power switch and a touchpad for controlling some functions, but most operations are executed via voice commands and gestures.

Google Glass devices have been in the field for several months. About 10,000 people were selected to receive the devices for evaluation, contingent on their payment of $1,500 and attendance at an orientation in New York City, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. Stalker Radar worked with Georgia Tech to integrate its CopTrax in-car video system into the Google Glass system.

Cop’s-Eye View
Officers of the Byron (Ga.) Police Department agreed to field-test the system. One of the officers’ early concerns was that the head-worn display would interfere with firearms sighting and operation, so they took the Glass device to the range. The cops fired handguns and rifles while wearing the Glass headset and had zero difficulty. Vision was not obstructed, and the device stayed in place.

The next test was in the field, under real-world conditions. A Byron officer made a traffic stop, found the driver to have an outstanding warrant, and arrested her. Not exactly the stuff of which Law and Order episodes are made, but it happened to be the first arrest ever documented via Google Glass. The video captured by the Glass device was streamed back to the police department. The device has 16 GB of internal storage available as well.

The video recording is unusually clear, detailed, and not jumpy or disorienting. One of the artifacts of many body-worn recorders is that there is a lot of camera motion, obscuring detail and even inducing motion sickness for the viewer. This video is more like what one remembers when mentally reviewing an incident. Even when the frame shifts from a well-lighted area to a dimmer one, as when looking at the sky versus looking into the interior of a car, details like the contents of a purse open on the passenger seat are clearly visible. It is truly a cop’s-eye view.

The battery housed in the Glass frame isn’t especially large, and useful battery life could be a concern in a public safety setting. Shifts can run 12 hours and longer, and it’s unlikely that such a small battery will endure that long. The current remedy is to power the Glass via a small battery pack, carried in a shirt pocket and connected by a cable. In the field test, officers were able to get a full day of use with the external battery attached.

At this stage of development, there isn’t a lot of information going to the Glass display seen by the officer wearing it. Most of what does appear is in the form of short text messages that can be sent to the device in the same way texts are sent to a smartphone. The device can also receive text alerts from the CopTrax software. The software integrates geographic metadata into the video stream, so the precise location where each frame of video captured is preserved.

Data Display in Your Sights
The CopTrax software is capable of storing proximity markers and “geosets” of areas of special interest. For example, say that a sex offender resides at 123 Oak Street. When the officer enters the zone surrounding that address, he can be notified via text message that the residence is nearby. The size of the proximity zone is user-selectable, from a few feet to several miles in radius.

Because CopTrax is a product of Stalker Radar, it’s no surprise that the output from a Stalker Radar device outputs directly to CopTrax, and can be displayed on the video frame. The same output is available to video recorded with Glass.

A fairly recent improvement in the CopTrax software is the capability of streaming live video from the patrol car to a communications center or other terminal. Although there are probably times when you would rather your boss not be seeing what you’re seeing, this can also be a valuable officer safety tool.

Google Glass is expected to be available for retail sale sometime in early 2014.

About the author

Tim Dees is a writer, editor, trainer, and former law enforcement officer. After 15 years as a police officer with the Reno Police Department and elsewhere in Northern Nevada, Tim taught criminal justice as a full-time professor and instructor at colleges in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Georgia, and Oregon.

He was also a regional training coordinator for the Oregon Dept. of Public Safety Standards & Training, providing in-service training to 65 criminal justice agencies in central and eastern Oregon.

Tim has written more than 300 articles for nearly every national law enforcement publication in the United States, and is the author of The Truth About Cops, published by Hyperink Press. In 2005, Tim became the first editor-in-chief for Officer.com, moving to the same position for LawOfficer.com at the beginning of 2008. He now writes on applications of technology in law enforcement from his home in SE Washington state.

Tim holds a bachelor’s degree in biological science from San José State University, a master’s degree in criminal justice from The University of Alabama, and the Certified Protection Professional credential from ASIS International. He serves on the executive board of the Public Safety Writers Association.

Dees can be reached at tim.dees@policeone.com.

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