VIEVU President Steve Ward on establishing the first U.S. body camera company and what’s on the horizon
A former Seattle SWAT officer and now VIEVU president talks with PoliceOne about the company’s body camera and redaction software technologies and what to expect in the next year
The following is paid sponsored content by VIEVU.
By PoliceOne BrandFocus Staff
In 1997, former Seattle SWAT officer Steve Ward had a vision that he made a reality 10 years later when he launched VIEVU, the first body-worn camera provider for law enforcement in the United States.
Now, body cameras are ubiquitous. They are used every day by law enforcement to protect evidence, police and citizens.
At the same time, body camera hardware and software continues to evolve. Here, Ward shares his thoughts on the future of body cameras and how their use will continue to help cops in the field.
1. You spent 13 years with the Seattle Police Department, including six years on the SWAT team. How did this experience prepare you for your role as VIEVU president?
Everything I needed to know about running a business, I learned being a police officer. We try to use that to our advantage in everything that we do with product design and software design.
We make a product for a very specialized industry, and you’ve got to make the product that will work for that industry. In other words, I don’t think a typical consumer tech company could make a product for police without really understanding the consumer.
2. You also testified before the Washington state legislature and completed a review on non-lethal weapons policy for the National Institute of Justice. What did this teach you about making a positive change in the law enforcement industry?
It was a really good experience to be involved in a positive movement to try and educate both police and the community on ways of resolving use-of-force incidents in a more non-lethal way.
Body cams are making a positive impact in much the same way that non-lethal weapons did. The public is starting to learn what their police officers are doing, and they’re seeing the great things that are coming out of police departments.
3. VIEVU is based in Seattle. Why is it important that law enforcement agencies support U.S.-based public-safety companies?
Most of the 18,000 police departments in the country are very similar in nature. They do vary by region in some department policies, but for the most part, they’re very synonymous in how they go about doing business. Any product or group of products that police use in this country really needs to be made from a perspective of U.S.-based law enforcement.
4. VIEVU sells body cameras. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in this market?
The biggest change is that when we first used to go into police departments and say to the chief of police, “Hey, we have a body cam,” we would get a blank stare. But today, I think every cop in America knows what a body cam is and that awareness is the biggest difference.
5. Body camera technologies are in the local and national news, and the topic seems to be at the center of controversial media coverage. What are your thoughts about that?
It’s very rare that we see a news agency go out and highlight a good job a police officer did. With the increase in use of police body cams, there will be police body cam footage now used by the news media because more police are actually wearing body cams. That’s why we make the body camera. We want to give police a tool that they can use to show the public, more specifically the media, what they did and why they did it.
A lot of the controversy arises out of a vacuum of information, so if the police departments have body cams, they would show what happened and defuse the controversy immediately.
6. There’s been a big increase in public demand to see body camera video footage. Do you see this increasing even more in the future?
I see the demand by police and citizens rising over the coming years as more police departments start using body cam technology.
I think that’s a good thing, and one of the reasons I started the company was so police could show the public what they deal with on a day-in and day-out basis.
In my experience from being a police officer, the more you inform the public about what you do and why and what your typical day looks like, the more the partnership develops between the citizen and the police officer.
7. VIEVU unveiled its automatic video redaction solution this year. How does it help police departments with the redaction of videos so they can be released to the marketplace in a timely manner? (Answered with Jason Wine, VIEVU VP of Engineering & Technology)
Video redaction is a daunting problem to solve. The tools currently in use are unable to deal with the unique challenges of body worn video, such as rapid movement and poor lighting conditions. Because of this, VIEVU worked with imaging research scientists from MIT to develop our Automated Video Redaction platform.
VIEVU uses algorithms that are optimized to detect faces in these conditions. This software automatically applies a mask that tracks the person throughout the video with minimal involvement. While we are able to get it right most of the time, our software may sometimes miss faces, too – but we are at the cutting edge of machine learning and facial detection.
However, what is even more impressive is the highly developed interface to quickly review the video, make corrections and generate a redacted video. Our software is constantly evolving and the detection algorithms are getting more effective every day. We envision a day where a single click of a button will quickly produce a fully redacted video suitable for review and release to the public. We’re excited to be able to offer such advanced video redaction software to police departments, because it’s a game-changer. Soon they won’t have to worry about significant video editing.
8. Why is it important that body camera systems offer AVR software?
This provides police departments a way that they can both meet the public disclosure laws in their state but at the same time protect their citizens’ privacy.
9. Where will body camera and AVR technology be in the next five years?
We are seeing the adoption rate for the body cams escalate on a monthly basis, and I expect that to continue. My guess is within probably two to three years, 70 percent of police departments are going to be using body cams, and that’s a huge increase.
It’s exciting because we know police departments that were looking at hiring an entire staff just to edit video with the old-fashioned technology; but now they don’t need that.
We’re always looking at better ways to fashion our technology so it’s more useful for police departments. We’ve got some great stuff planned.
For more information about video redaction technology, contact VIEVU.