BodyWorn cameras from Utility: Another part of the 'evidence ecosystem'

The BodyWorn device from Utility Associates records video and audio, like most body cameras now in use — it’s there the similarity ends


All technology experiences evolution. Stone wheels eventually led to steel-belted radial tires. The smartphone in your pocket was preceded by a huge Marconi “wireless.” Robert McKeeman says he has the next generation of camera/recorders in his BodyWorn product. 

“The days of the clip-on camera are just about over,” said McKeeman. The BodyWorn device from Utility Associates records video and audio, like most body cameras now in use — it’s there the similarity ends. 

Instead of clipping onto a shirt front, epaulet, or eyeglass frame, officers carry the BodyWorn camera in a vest worn over the uniform shirt. The vest is made of the same material as the uniform shirt, and can also carry body armor panels. The camera fits into a pocket sewn under the button placket, which holds a quarter-size grommet for the lens. 

Utility’s video viewer software shows the video image along with a map, indicating the location of the shot. (Photo Courtesy of Utility Associates, Inc.)
Utility’s video viewer software shows the video image along with a map, indicating the location of the shot. (Photo Courtesy of Utility Associates, Inc.)

Multiple Activation Cues
The device can start recording when the patrol car door opens, if the officer starts running or goes prone, by remote command from the communications center, or by a voice command (preceded by “OK, BodyWorn”). Users “train” the device to accept their voice commands, and no others. A GPS chip will activate the recorder if it crosses a “geo-fence” boundary (a geographical location or zone) pre-designated at the network level. A brief vibration and/or beep signals the officer the camera is active. 

Ideally, the BodyWorn recorder integrates with the agency’s existing dash-cam system, if they have one. McKeeman says that most in-car video systems are compatible with BodyWorn. 

The recorder can also activate when it detects “interesting content.” A proprietary algorithm analyzes the camera’s output continuously, and starts recording if whatever is happening appears noteworthy. The recording can be saved at the officer’s discretion and command. If the device has not detected any of the other recording prompts at the end of the contact, the recording is discarded. 

Because the devices are networked, a command to start one officer’s recorder will also trigger all other recorders in the vicinity to start. If a critical incident develops, chances are it will be recorded from the perspective of every officer on scene. 

Automatic Uploading
Once a recording has been started, the device starts uploading the content wirelessly, in one-minute segments. The connection is made either through a 100-meter Wi-Fi “bubble” that surrounds the patrol car, over a cellular data network, or through an open Wi-Fi access point. This frees up recording capacity and makes it more difficult to delete or destroy an existing recording. 

Recorders have either 16- or 32-GB of onboard memory, enough for four to five hours of recording. Battery capacity is sufficient for 24-48 hours of patrol time. The battery recharges through a USB cable, like most smartphones. A new model in the works will have inductive charging, so the camera needs only to be laid on a special pad to recharge. 

The BodyWorn camera/recorder is about the size and shape of a large smartphone. It includes a display for reviewing recorded video and other data transmitted to the device. The two-way network system makes it possible to disseminate wanted person photos and other graphic and text data to all the devices on the network, or to a selected subset. 

Recorded video is at 720p resolution, which is a considerable improvement over most body cameras presently in use. Typical video resolution is 640x480 pixels. 720p is 1280x720 pixels, or almost four times the clarity of 640x480. 

Video Management
Storage and management of video recordings can be a problem and Utility provides its own solution. Like most video archiving services, they use Amazon Web Services for physical storage. Their strategy is to retain all video for 90 days, traffic stops for a year, DUI stops for three years, and felony incidents indefinitely (these retention periods can be defined by the end user, but changes will affect the costs of archiving). They estimate that a 50-officer agency would incur about $6,200 in storage costs per year. 

There is an annual $550-$600 software as a service charge per BodyWorn device for the video management system itself. Video management is critical to camera programs, as this is what allows users to call up and view recordings from a particular date, time, location, or officer. Utility’s system integrates a map with recordings, and generates a small thumbnail still frame every ten seconds of recording. This makes it much easier to find the desired portion of a recording. 

Robert McKeeman has a name for the technology solutions used to collect evidence in law enforcement, including automated license plate readers, gunshot locators, facial recognition systems, fixed location surveillance cameras, etc. He says, “It’s not about the BodyWorn camera alone. It’s about the whole evidence ecosystem.” 

The BodyWorn device costs $400 — the vest, mounting brackets, and holster are an additional $150.

About the author

Tim Dees is a retired police officer and criminal justice professor. He has been writing on criminal justice technology issues for virtually every U.S. police publication and commercial website since 1988. Tim holds a bachelor’s degree in biological science from San José State University, and a master’s degree in criminal justice from The University of Alabama. He serves on the executive board of the Public Safety Writers Association.

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

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