How to buy in-car video systems
A study by the IACP on in-car video found that half of all complaints against officers were dropped when the complainant learned the incident was recorded on video. When they were not deterred by the presence of video evidence, the most recent figures have shown that an officer is exonerated more than 96 percent of the time when video is part of the evidence.
Because of factors such as funding, politics, etc. there are still many agencies in the U.S. without in-car video systems or with outdated systems. If your department is looking to buy new video equipment, these are the most important factors to take into account while searching for it:
1. Planning: Before your agency even begins to contact vendors you should have a plan in place the clearly identifies how your department will capture, transfer, store and archive the volumes of video data you will be collecting. Without a clear plan of action you will leave your organization open to a costly and ineffective evidence gathering system. Defining what you need in advance will save you a lot of time and money. Such factors as how much video will be collected, how long it is stored, what is stored and accessibility to the evidence are extremely important. Even small agencies could potentially collect thousands of videos a month.
2. Investigation, Referrals, and Proof: Speak to your peers. There is no better way to get a feel for what you need. Your peers have already gone through a long qualification process. Call around and find an agency that closely resembles your agencies makeup and procedures before you begin your equipment evaluation period.
Make sure that you are speaking with suppliers that have multiple sites available for you to visit and speak with. You should also find out how many systems any vendor has installed. Keep in mind that vendors with a smaller customer base might be able to serve you now but as there customer base grows will your agency receive the service that it needs to maintain mission critical systems?
It's also a good idea to request a test/evaluation unit so you can use your own experience with the product to be sure a vendor can back up their claims.
3. Cost vs. Value: You want a quality system so you reliably have evidence when you need it and don’t have to repair or replace the equipment all the time, but don’t want to give an arm or leg to get it. Although quality new systems easily cost $3,500 and up, if that’s not in your budget, ask about refurbished units or lease funding options. The company you approach for in-car video should also be aware of grant opportunities to get that kind of equipment.
4. Cameras vs. Image quality: For some agencies an in-car video system with one camera is sufficient. However there are times you may need up to four camera views to capture an incident in its entirety. Ask the vendor how many cameras can record simultaneously, and at what resolution. This is important because you don’t want to sacrifice image quality for maximum camera coverage.
5. Refurbished vs. New: While refurbished systems are less expensive than new systems it may not support your organizations mission critical status to have old equipment out in the field. Public safety organizations put a lot of stress and strain on equipment and you could potentially have more problems than the refurb equipment is worth if it starts breaking down on a regular basis.
6. Real Estate: How much space does the equipment take up and how easy is it to install and use? Do you have to tie up valuable trunk, headliner or dash space? Is it easy to install in any vehicle or are you looking at costly additional installation expenses?
Make sure to assess the placement of the device’s controls and ensure they are somewhere easily accessible. The system should also automate many functions to remain obtrusive.
7. Reliability: How reliably does the system operate and how reliable is the medium that it records to? Make sure the system has performed well for other departments in similar environmental conditions. Ask about the length of a system’s warranty to get an idea of how confident the manufacturer is in their product. Also, make sure to find out what kind of system they use for recording evidence.
One variable of video systems that is subject to varying degrees of reliability are the hard drives. Although hard drives have improved greatly in the past couple of years for shock and vibration resistance, a hard drive has moving parts such as bearings, motors, and platters spinning at high rates of speed. Given the general nature of DVD and hard drives, their performance and the ability to accurately store and write information will degrade in time. Not to mention that the degradation may increase rapidly depending upon the amount of usage, cold and heat from climate conditions, and even vibration from rough roads.
Compact Flash (CF) and Secure Digital (SD) cards utilize solid state technology that contains no moving parts. This technology is proven to be much more rugged than traditional storage devices.
8. Features: Does the system do everything you want it to? Does it do everything you foresee it needing to do? The last thing you want to do is make an investment in something that will not fulfill your needs, immediately as well as a year down the road. Key features often include pre-event recording, meta data (GPS coordinates, date/time stamp, vehicle and radar information, etc.), high resolution video, simultaneous camera recording, event marking, automatic record triggers, wireless transfer, and so forth. Additionally, does the system include software to review and manage your audio, video and data evidence, make DVD copies, etc.?
9. Storage: Ask about storage options and plan storage logistics. Who do you want to have access to the recorded evidence? How and where do they need to be able to access it? How are you planning to store the evidence and how will you get it there? Do you want the evidence stored with redundancy backups in case something happens to the original evidence?
10. Security and Evidentiary Integrity: Before you begin the process, speak with your town or city attorney and gather there feedback on what they would like (or need) to see. Most often, consulting with your local legal team can prove invaluable down the road. Remember, you may need to hold on to this evidence for a long time. Having a system in place to manage it will be crucial, and therefore the least expensive system may not suit your requirements for storing evidence.
Agencies today know that every piece of evidence will be challenged in court. To mitigate questions on the integrity of video evidence, be sure the system has an audit log built into the software. There should be an unalterable and automatic record of download, viewing, classifying and burning activities so there can be no doubt that the evidence has not been tampered with.
Is the system secure enough to meet your chain of custody requirements? Do users have to utilize individual codes to log into the system or remove evidence? Are the files watermarked to prevent tampering? Can they be overwritten, edited or deleted while still in the recorder?
11. Management Tools: Collecting and storing the evidence is only part of the value these systems can offer. Ask about reporting tools such as fleet health reports so you can monitor things like how many cars have docked, video upload times, systems down, and so on.
12. Training, Service, and Support: A low cost system without the support in place that your agency requires could mean that you may end up buying a system twice. Make sure that your supplier clearly defines the size and scope of its training and support organizations. What kinds of training tools do they provide to keep handy and use later for reference? Do they only have manuals or do they also offer videos, quick reference sheets to put in your vehicle, etc.? In terms of service and support, there are times when any system is going to have some technical issues. Be sure the vendor has the capability to remote into a vehicle from its headquarters and perform fixes on-the-spot. This can have a huge impact on down time and maintenance costs.
13. Financial Strength: In today’s market, making sure you have a financially stable supplier is critical. Make sure that you include a financial review in your RFP.
14. Officer Safety: Your final consideration — but actually, first, last, and always — is the matter of officer safety. You should keep this in mind throughout the entire selection process. Make sure that systems you purchase are “officer safe.”
Do you have any other suggestions for officers purchasing and evaluating in-car video systems? Please leave a comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org with your feedback.
Michael Millhollen, Marketing Specialist for Digital Ally, Inc., Robin Falcone, Marketing Manager for Digital Safety Technologies, and John Powers, Senior Marketing Manager for L-3 Mobile-Vision, contributed to this report.