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May 19, 2009
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Lindsey J. Bertomen Police Products
with Lindsey J. Bertomen

Product Review: ICOP Model 20/20-W

I used to run a tape recorder while on patrol. It provided a level of protection and eliminated many problems created by complaining citizens. Now, with in-car video systems that feature remote microphones, and color video, my cassette recorder seems bush-league.

I recently reviewed the ICOP family of products, which includes the ICOP Model 20/20®-W, a dash-mounted video system, and the ICOP 20/20 VISION, the MDC (Mobile Data Computer) equivalent. When I began research for my review of ICOP’s products, the company directed me to talk to Captain J.D. Huff of the Fruitland (Idaho) Police Department.

Capt. Huff told me about the time a Fruitland PD officer was involved in a pursuit with a person who had fired shots at a residence. The vehicle was located by a Payette County Deputy near Fruitland. The Fruitland officer assisted a Payette County Deputy with attempting to stop the vehicle for a felony arrest. After a long pursuit, the suspect got out of his pickup and began waving a handgun. The officer and deputy told him to drop the weapon. The Fruitland officer then fired a single round and the suspect was subdued.

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The ICOP video was able to demonstrate the officer's perspective from the beginning to the end of the call. I reviewed the video on my own PC, and in my opinion, it made shootouts on highly-produced TV shows look like home movies.

The video begins with the minute preceding the lights-and-siren activation, at the time when the officer received the dispatch. It is followed by the officer driving to the scene, then following the deputy. The suspect abruptly stops in what looks like a rural area and exits the vehicle. The audio is so clear one can easily discern the officer hitting the vehicle lock on his carbine and removing it.

Using the system’s interface, which allows viewing 30 frames per second individually, and a visit to the scene, I could have testified on proximity, threat to the officer and most aspects on use of force. Additionally, the officer’s post shooting actions were memorialized. (For the record, this incident is exemplary of professionalism in law enforcement.)

Candid Camera
The ICOP Model 20-20-W is an in-dash recording system that integrates up to three cameras, a Garmin GPS, and a wireless microphone. Using a 40 GB shock-resistant hard drive, it can run continuously while providing easy access to the recorded material. The system consists of the recorder, a Sony FCB 1x11A Super HAD color camera, a wireless microphone with a charging station, and a discreet in car microphone.

When I reviewed one of these machines, I had the good fortune of having ICOP’s Dan Ambrose as a guide. He showed me the ICOP Model 20/20-W system, which he said was the most common digital in-car recorder system. The ICOP 20/20 VISION has similar features but they are integrated into a laptop configuration.

In the vehicle, the ICOP Model 2020-W is recessed into the dashboard. In the two-camera configuration they are mounted so that the high definition one faces forward and the IR capable passenger compartment camera faces rearward. Some agencies will need a third camera, which usually captures action behind the vehicle. The third camera is suitable for traffic radar units that routinely gather evidence while the vehicle faces the direction of travel. The ICOP system can operate two cameras at a time; manual switching to run the forward and passenger camera requires just the press of a button.

ICOP has addressed the most important aspects of officer safety by designing an installation that won’t become projectiles in a crash. This set up is elegant, not simply more stuff crowding an already cramped passenger compartment. The cameras are out of the way of driver and passengers, firmly mounted in several places. The ICOP Model 20/20-W goes where one would normally mount the radio (the unit also has a radio, negating the need to install a replacement). For agencies using MDCs, the ICOP Vision can integrate into existing mounted laptops.

Who Needs Note Pads?
Ambrose demonstrated the capabilities of the Sony color camera by showing me its ability to switch from macro to micro. One can hold a subject’s ID up to the lens (an inch or so away) and the ID information is now embedded into the video. The same goes for firearm serial numbers and other evidence.

Probably the most striking and desirable feature is the clarity of the audio and video. The audio capture uses a discreet in-car microphone and a separate remote, which goes on the officer. The remote is sealed against inclement weather and has a recessed help button, which activates the video and an alert, which can be linked to dispatch. The remote microphone also has switches, which can manually activate the ICOP system while the officer is away from the patrol car. It also has a plug for a rugged lapel microphone, which gives an additional flexibility to the officer. The wireless microphone has an on/off/standby switch with LED indicators and a stealth mode, which turns off the LEDs.

When an officer uses the remote switch (or any other method to start recording), the in car camera displays two LEDs that indicate they are on, which can be seen from the officers perspective on a vehicle stop. When the “help” key is depressed, the camera starts rolling and sends dispatch a GPS location.

The remote microphone has a battery life of 9 hours. Huff told me that an officer can re-synch another in a matter of minutes. The base/charging unit can charge and sync two microphones for those extra long shifts. They are good for 2000 feet line of sight, which means that the officer can enter a home on a domestic with the car parked down the street a little, and still have audio and help key capabilities.

The remote microphone is unobtrusive enough to be used during non-uniformed assignments. In fact, there is no reason why the ICOP system can’t be used for detective work. ICOP designed this system to address evidentiary challenges to video capture, including installing a hierarchy of password protection in the system that specifically allows end-users rights to be distinct from supervisor rights, which are distinct from administrator rights. The system’s drive is also tamperproof and the videos are not editable.

When the car is rolling and recording, GPS and other metadata like speed, use of brakes, and light bar activation are permanently interfaced with the evidence. Officers can also hit the “mark” button which tags the video for easy search and retrieval of scenes. In pursuit, it goes like this: The suspect vehicle sideswipes a parked car. The primary officer hits the mark button on the console, which is prominently on the corner so it can be located by feel. While careening down a poorly lit area, the suspect tosses something out the window. The primary officer hits the mark button again. Later, when the suspect is detained, the officer goes right to the marked segments, notes the landmarks and retrieves the evidence. No landmarks? Not a problem, the GPS coordinates are also indexed.

The “Black Box” of Patrol Cars
There are several methods of getting the contents of a 40 gig hard drive to the agency’s server. It can be uploaded wirelessly or through an Ethernet connection, and the drive can be undocked and docked to the server or through an optional direct-to-DVD system. Undocking the drive is probably the easiest because the drive sits behind the secure locking faceplate; the drive can be slid into a docking cradle attached to the server.

I cannot imagine how long the contents of a 40 gig drive would take on an 802.11g system so I would choose docking. In any case, the drive cannot be refreshed or erased unless the user (supervisor) affirms the selection on the server more than once.

When I asked Ambrose if the 20/20 system uses a spinning hard drive, which can be vulnerable to impact, he assured me by showing me several crash recordings, followed by some photos of destroyed patrol cars. Having destroyed a few patrol cars myself, I cringed for a few minutes before I realized that only a couple of the videos were pursuit crashes. How did the thing capture the action prior to the crash? More precisely, how did the 20/20-W know enough to start recording a minute before the crash even happened?

Ambrose explained that the system is already recording but certain events trigger activation. The events can be nearly any switch in the car like overhead lights or siren activation, crash sensors or door locks. The system can also be manually activated in the car or by using the microphone. When activated, the system begins recording a minute before the event. The advantages are enormous – for example, the city vehicle collision report that looks like a questionable “officer-was-following-too-closely” becomes an obvious “erratic-driver-cuts-off-patrol-car-then-jams-on-brakes” case with the preceding 60 seconds. For this feature alone I can think of a couple of times where I would have paid for the ICOP product out of my own pocket had it been available.

Watch Anywhere
ICOP has two methods of archiving and retrieving videos, ICOP iVAULT MMS™ and ICOP PC Viewer. Most agencies will use PC Viewer, which produced the videos I viewed. iVAULT allows server or HTTP/HTTPS (or web-based, enterprise-level) video and other evidence sharing, provided the recipient has iVAULT also.

The model 20/20-W is also capable of capturing and burning DVDs with the ICOP interface in the DVD, which allows for reviewing the video on any DVD player.

ICOP has another system that’s compatible with the 20/20-W that allows others in a certain network to view what the incident camera sees simultaneously. ICOP LIVE™ is a streaming high quality video that gives authorized viewers a driver’s seat perspective. Although this is a separate investment, ICOP Model 20/20-W is ICOP LIVE capable if the agency opts for it.

The ICOP family of products has already passed muster in durability and reliability. The 20/20-W, which the company hopes will soon be thought of as the “black box of the patrol car,” is just the kind of tool that every department needs in our increasingly litigious society.

About the author

Lindsey Bertomen is a retired police officer and retired military small arms trainer. He teaches criminal justice at Hartnell College in Salinas, California. He has a BS in Criminal Justice and an MS in Online Teaching and Learning. Lindsey has taught shooting techniques for over a decade. His articles on firearms tactics have appeared in print for over a decade. Lindsey enjoys competing in shooting sports, running, and cycling events.

Contact Lindsey Bertomen

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