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In-car Cameras go the Extra Mile

By Mark J. Pescatore
Government Video Magazine

Bill Fagan, executive vice president of Kustom Signals, Inc. is a big fan of in-car camera systems, and not just because his company sell a lot of them. To him, in-car video helps police officers and citizens alike.

"The number one thing I see is that in-car video is absolutely indisputable, irrefutable evidence," said Fagan. "A lot of cases that would have gone to trial don''t ever go to trial. It makes prosecution easier, convictions easier - it keeps police out doing enforcement rather than in a trial situation."

The Kansas-based company is a leader in in-car camera systems. Its Eyewitness system has been on the market for almost a dozen years, and has gone through many enhancements during that time. The current incarnation uses Sony and Panasonic components to provide users with tools for video evidence.

Under Control

Kustom''s most popular design of the in-car camera unit itself features an overhead console that mounts between the sun visors in a Ford Crown Victoria or a Chevrolet Impala, two popular law enforcement vehicles. Fagan said the panel doesn''t interfere with the radio rack in the unit and can control the entire in-car camera system.

Officers can begin recording by pushing the "record" button on the control panel, activating the lights and siren, or through a transmitter worn by the officer. The only way to shut off the system, according to Fagan is for the officer to get back in the vehicle and push the "stop" button.

The console features a Sony 1/3"-inch CCD camera with 400 lines of resolution and a 1 lux rating. An important issue to consider for an in-car camera, Fagan noted, is its nighttime recording, especially its resistance to the halo effect, which can be caused from oncoming headlights. Fagan also recommends shutting off the auto focus at night, because auto focus will try to tweak the camera''s performance by focusing on the oncoming headlights, not necessarily the car that has been stopped.

The console also includes the Panasonic LC-35, a high resolution LCD monitor with a non-reflective screen that can be positioned for ease of use. Fagan said that the monitor provides excellent picture quality even in direct sunlight.

In the trunk, images are recorded using the Panasonic AG-720, which Fagan said is "just outstanding for this application." The unit is built to perform in varying weather conditions as well as in moving, shaky environments. It records on VHS tape for up to eight hours.

While some customers opt for a simple trunk case, Kustom offers an even more secure option, where the recorder is enclosed in what is essentially a "maximum security vault," according to Fagan. The enclosure includes an outer layer of stainless steel, two layers of Kevlar fireproof insulation, and an inner layer of sheet metal. This makes the bullet resistant and fireproof.

Further, the enclosure is sealed to minimize dust and is lockable to prevent tampering. "You''ve got the equivalent of a black box on an airplane," Fagan suggested. "It''s the ultimate in evidence integrity."

Documenting Actions and Thoughts

Beyond legal evidence, Fagan said the in-car camera systems can also help police departments internally. First if an officer violates standard operating procedures, the department can review the tape and take corrective action. Also, videotape can lower incidents of frivolous internal affair cases.

"One of the biggest benefits has been training," Fagan added. "It''s made officers more professional and probably saved lives."

In-car camera systems do more than document the actions of officers - an officer-worn wireless mic also provides the opportunity for audio commentary. Even before the officer leaves his vehicle to address a driver, he can document his reasoning for the probable cause of pulling over the car by speaking his thoughts out loud. Police have told Fagan the microphone then becomes their best line of defense against false racial profiling.


For more information on in-car video systems, contact www.KustomSignals.com

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