I See You; Tactical Video Systems
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
This article is reprinted with permission from Police Magazine,
Not to be reprinted or published without the express consent of www.policemag.com/.