If you have ever encountered a closed door, a blind corner, a dark alley, or some other seemingly impenetrable barrier, you may have wished for x-ray vision to see what evil lurked on the other side. Superman you are not, but there are technologies that can help you see through, under, and around barriers.
Several manufacturers have dedicated their research and development efforts specifically toward giving law enforcement and the military tactical cameras that can reveal what's happening behind closed doors. Let's take a look at some of them.
Since 1967, Instrument Technology Inc. (ITI) has been researching, developing, and manufacturing remote viewing equipment. It is now one of the leading suppliers of pole cameras and other tactical video systems for law enforcement applications.
The company makes a wide variety of tactical cameras, including non-conductive videoscopes and fiberscopes for bomb techs, under-door scopes and peep hole scopes for surveillance, pole cameras for SWAT operations, and gas tank search fiberscopes for drug and contraband interdiction. Features and options on the ITI systems include infrared and white light imaging, high-resolution wireless monitors, and digital documentation capabilities.
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Eye Ball R1
One of the most versatile new devices is the Eye Ball R1 from Remington Technologies. Recipient of a 2006 Innovation Award at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Show, the spherical Eye Ball can be tossed, rolled, projected, or lowered into place. Once on the job, it can relay up to two hours of live imagery to a mobile display unit.
What most police agencies like most about the device is its ready-to-go utility. "Basically, you can open up the package upon delivery, and you are pretty much ready to rock 'n' roll," explains Remington representative Pat Moore. "You simply pull a pin out of the ball and obtain an instant image. It is an extremely intuitive piece of machinery."
For $5,000 you get two Eye Ball R1s, a training ball, a remote monitor, a Pelican 1500 suitcase, chargers, and cleaning kit. With included adapters, you can mount the ball to a pole or a suspension wire for peering around corners or into attics and stairwells. The camera can also be mounted on a spike for ground surveillance.
Some agencies have modified the Eye Ball into what are affectionately known as "redneck robots." They place the device on a radio-controlled car for short distance mobile surveillance.
The camera rotates for omni-directional viewing within a 25-yard radius in normal light. In darkness, the camera can provide near infrared illumination out to nine yards. Streaming video from two cameras can be viewed up to 200 yards away on a personal display unit's 6.4-inch color screen. The remote monitor also controls the rotation of the cameras and can place the cameras in standby mode to preserve battery life.
While not indestructible, the Eye Ball is encased in three layers of rubber to withstand rough handling. They have been tossed out high windows and even helicopters. Eye Ball devices have been employed in military theaters in Afghanistan and Iraq and received glowing reviews from the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base, which was "very impressed by the beating it took."
Senior Corporal Mike Keating of the Dallas Police Department is also impressed with the Eye Ball. He only regrets that his department doesn't have more of the cameras. He also wishes that they could be fireproof. "We deployed one simultaneous to a flash-bang assault, and the ensuing fire took one of the cameras out. But there's no question that they have been a very valuable tool. I would readily recommend them."
Keating notes that in many ways the device pays for itself. "It really facilitates and expedites many of our tactical operations. For not only does it identify the nature of a threat and where it is located, but it also identifies when there is no threat. This safely speeds up any given operation and cuts down on the number of man hours that are otherwise spent at a particular location deliberating on—and ultimately executing—some needless dynamic entry."
Already some 225 state and municipal law enforcement departments, 32 federal agencies, and some 50 military groups have purchased and used the Eye Ball.
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PC229XP Color Snake Camera
Supercircuits is well known in the television world, having supplied CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, and FOX News programs with equipment for undercover investigative shows such as "Dateline."
The company also provides a wide variety of color, infrared, and thermal cameras for law enforcement use. Its PC229XP Color Snake Camera is currently used by more than 5,500 police departments.
For less than $250, you can get this pinhole camera with its flexible snake-like coil and 1⁄2-inch camera head. Although small, this camera provides 470 lines of resolution for DVD-grade video performance.
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PCSS1 Wireless Pole Camera
Broken Arrrow, Okla.-based Tactical Electronics makes the PCSS1 Wireless Pole Camera, an extremely versatile remote viewing system for tactical law enforcement applications.
Each PCSS1 system includes two camera heads with flexible necks, a color camera with LED lighting, and a black-and-white camera with infrared lighting. You can change the heads in seconds. Just push the button to unlock the head, pull it off, and snap another one on.
The pole for the PCSS1 can extend up to 20 feet with each 20-inch section weighing only 0.6 pounds. It has a line-of-sight range of up to a mile.
Operators can view the images through two different monitors: a 2.5-inch wrist-mount monitor and a 5.5-inch LCD portable screen. The monitors can be connected by wire for total operational security or the signal can be transmitted wirelessly to either monitor system.
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As a sergeant with the Montgomery County (Texas) Sheriff's Department, George Gilmer often found himself in extremely vulnerable positions. While investigating attics and basement crawl spaces, Gilmer often found himself thinking, "Man, this is stupid."
His desire to solve such dark mysteries while maximizing officer safety practices led him to experiment with video equipment. "Basically, I took an old standby—the submarine periscope—and added electricity," he says.
The resulting TacView camera avails the police officer a means of face-to-face contact without exposing him- or herself to danger. It even allows the officer to establish verbal negotiations with suspects without physically engaging them.
The TacView 2600 includes an extension pole that allows viewing into a second-story window or onto the roof of a one-story building from ground level. In addition, its camera head can be detached and clamped onto the top of a shield for greater mobility. A 100-foot cable can be attached to provide discrete and safe surveillance from a distance. Its 6.5-inch TFT LCD color monitor displays crisp details. The TacView is extremely durable, capable of sustaining drops from at least six feet onto a concrete surface. It is easily cleaned and is weather resistant.
"We have been justified in its use," says Gilmer. "The suspect doesn't have to worry about collateral issues. While we're thinking, Who is that? What is that? and eliminating alternate scenarios in considering backgrounds and fields of fire, he is simply fixated on target acquisition.
"Think of your 'check the welfare' calls, or calls wherein the neighbors have heard a gunshot and it's a possible suicide. Scenario number one is that you make entry and find the suspect with his hands empty, the gun at his side, and the victim deceased. Scenario number two is that you make entry and find that he has just shot his wife who is wounded and slowly bleeding to death. Scenario number three is that you walk into a location and find yourself confronted by a suicidal individual who, having taken a couple of preparatory shots into the walls, is now looking to take you with him.
"By breaking a window and tossing in the device, you're able to get better intelligence much more quickly and safely than you would otherwise, and you are able to tailor your actions thereafter in a more expedient and safe manner," Gilmer says.
The cameras can also assist in criminal and civil cases to document actual events in law enforcement situations. While some defendants have successfully claimed that they interpreted an officer's actions during search for services as home invasion robberies, video footage obtained via mobile cameras goes a long way toward impeaching such contentions and insulating law enforcement agencies from liability lawsuits.
Increasingly, Gilmer is obtaining repeat orders for the TacView cameras from agencies that have found the devices valuable in non-SWAT operations.
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Dual Mode Camera Systems
Zistos tactical camera systems are modularly designed to provide color, infrared, and thermal imaging in just about any environment a patrol or special operations officer may encounter. The interchangeability of poles and cameras provides complete compatibility forward and backward with all other products in the Zistos line, which helps to stretch constrained budgets.
"We are very engineering driven," says Robert Levine, an engineer with Zistos. "We are constantly polling law enforcement for what works and what doesn't. We have our ear to the ground and listen to the needs of tactical teams, warrant teams, crime scene teams, and search teams to design the appropriate tools. Our approach to end users is that everything we build can be used with everything we've ever built."
For basic patrol use, Zistos' patrol supervisor kit is a small pole system that can easily fit into the back of a squad car. It can be used by patrol officers who have to search a crawlspace or attic before they even know they have to call a SWAT team. A variant of the pole camera can be used by highway departments to make quick and thorough searches of cars, cargo carriers above vehicles, and undercarriages.
"Additionally, the modularity that we provide in the array of options allows the end-user to custom configure the system dynamically in the field based upon the specific mission and environment," adds Levine. "As an example of that, we can transition from an infrared illuminated pole camera for use in low-light areas to a thermal camera for use in total darkness or smoky situations. We can remove the pole, put on an under-the-door camera, and see into a room before entry. We can remove the poles and cameras altogether and use it with a fiberscope or videoscope."
Like the TacView, Zistos camera systems do not rely solely on wireless communications. "Our poles and cameras are immersible in water, as are many of our competitors'," explains Levine. "However, many of them have problems when it comes to remote monitoring on their display screens. Our displays are housed in rubber armor so that you can use them in inclement weather without any additional protection needed."
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