[opendtv] News: Digital Video Makes Inroads With Police

  • From: Craig Birkmaier <craig@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: OpenDTV Mail List <opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 9 Jul 2004 07:47:47 -0400


Digital Video Makes Inroads With Police

Published: July 8, 2004

A  TiVo-style digital video system makes it easier for officers to 
record law breakers and avoid frivolous lawsuits, while saving them 
valuable storage space unlike bulky analog tapes.

The Tyler Police Department in East Texas outfitted its 60 patrol 
cars with systems that take a steady stream of video. It includes a 
special ``pre-event'' feature that automatically goes back and saves 
the minute of footage before an officer hits the record button to 
mark the video.

"Now that I've got them on video, I figure, 'Let's go to court, I'd 
be happy to play them for you,''' Tyler police officer John Weavers 

Tyler, a city of about 83,000 people some 90 miles east of Dallas, is 
one of seven police departments using a digital video system from 
IBM's Global Services division and Coban Research and Technologies 
Inc., a small private company near Houston.

Police in Yakima, Wash., were the first, outfitting 35 marked patrol 
cars about a year ago. Tyler, which had been testing the system for 
months, went live with the digital video in early June.

The departments who use the systems say digital is better than analog 
video tapes in just about every way -- they save money over the long 
term, are more likely to catch criminals in the act, and do a better 
job of protecting officers from frivolous lawsuits and citizens from 
unfair or abusive treatment.

``It's really just an emerging technology. What's happening is that 
you have a lot of departments migrating from analog to digital video 
for reasons of storage, management of the video, for more consistent 
quality,'' said David Hinojosa, a marketing vice president at Coban.

The systems cost from $7,000 to $10,000 per car, about the same as 
traditional analog video systems. With analog, however, there's the 
added expense of storing hundreds or thousands of video tapes taken 
during domestic disputes, traffic violations and drug busts.

Tyler police said they expect to save about $50,000 a year in labor, 
management and supply costs with the new system.

``Any time you have absolute, concrete evidence that an incident 
happened as the officer says, that's a good thing,'' said Charley 
Wilkison, political and legislative director of the Combined Law 
Enforcement Associations of Texas. The lobbying group represents more 
than 100 police unions across the state.

An added bonus for officers is that information, from driver's 
license data to satellite GPS coordinates, can be tagged to the 
video, making it easy to search from officers' desktop computers.

And since it's searchable, police don't have to wade through hours of 
video tape cassettes to find a particular incident.

The video is saved to a high capacity computer server, eliminating 
the need for a staff of clerical workers and a separate storage room 
to file and retrieve stacks of video tapes.

In the year since the system was deployed in Yakima, it has proven 
especially effective in protecting police from lawsuits and 
complaints against officers, Capt. Jeff Schneider said.

``They tend not to go to court a whole lot once the defense looks at 
the video tape,'' he said.

The system really paid off last year when Yakima police used the 
pre-event to capture a person running away from where a killing had 

``We had an officer just patrolling town, and he was able to catch a 
suspect fleeing the scene of a murder we didn't even know had 
occurred yet,'' Schneider said.

When a call went out about the slaying minutes later, the officer was 
able to get footage of the suspect, who was about 300 feet away when 
he was recorded trying to leave the area. The man was later charged 
with the murder.

In Tyler, Weavers said he enjoys the system's convenience and ease of use.

When he starts his daily patrols, he takes a black metal disk drive 
about the size of a slice of bread and plugs it into a machine 
anchored to the floorboard of his cruiser.

At the end of his shift, Weavers takes the drive to a computer 
station at the office, and in a few minutes downloads the day's 
videos onto the central computer. He marks as evidence videos he 
wants to preserve. Those not marked are automatically deleted in 90 

Tyler police aren't stopping with digital video. While still months 
away, the next step is to add a wireless Internet network that will 
allow department headquarters to watch the streaming videos in real 
time, Sgt. John Bausell said.

``I think they're about to explode in the market,'' Bausell said of 
the video systems. ``You're going to start seeing it pretty 
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