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Cover Story

Tactical Cameras Are a Force Multiplier

Tactical cameras—whether on poles, robots, or dogs—are helping SWAT successfully end dangerous barricade and hostage incidents.

March 20, 2012  |  by - Also by this author

Photo: Mark W. Clark
Photo: Mark W. Clark

A barricade incident is a planned gunfight. The angry or disturbed or evil perpetrator locks him or herself in a house or office with a gun and ammo with the intent of shooting anyone who tries to get them out.

That barricaded subject has a number of tactical advantages over SWAT. He or she knows the layout of the building and the terrain. Worse, he or she may have established lines of fire based on the likely approaches of a SWAT team. Such kill zones are especially likely if the barricaded subject has military or police training or is an avid hunter.

All of these advantages make the barricaded suspect one of the most dangerous operations for any SWAT team. But in recent years technology has come to the aid of tactical police units to help them gain better intel and counter their adversaries' tactical advantages.

Keeping Heads Down

The goal of any tactical surveillance system is to keep the tactical officer out of the kill zone. One such tool has been available to law enforcement and the military for more than a century: the periscope.

Way back in World War I soldiers on the Western front learned very quickly that the easiest way to get killed was to pop their heads up over the trench line. But still they needed to observe the activities of troops in the opposing trench line and make sure they weren't making an assault. The solution to this problem was the periscope. And in some operations, the periscope is still as viable today as it was in 1916.

A variation of the periscope called the SwatScope is in use today with American forces in Afghanistan and with numerous SWAT teams. Approved by the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA), the SwatScope is an extendable lightweight handheld periscope with a 4X to 9X power zoom. Adapters allow it to be fitted with night vision equipment. It can also be fitted with cameras, an infrared laser, and a flashlight.

Pole Cams

There are many advantages to tactical pole cameras over optical systems. They have the ability to extend beyond the officer's line of sight, and they can capture video intelligence for viewing by team leaders and incident commanders.

Of course they also cost more. But you have to pay for technology. And the technology used in the latest tactical pole cameras is quite sophisticated. Advances like fiber optics made these tools possible, and they now feature HD cameras, infrared illuminators, and very long reach poles. The result is a very practical tool that lets SWAT gather intel without risking lives.

Cpl. Jose Medina of the Piscataway, N.J., SWAT team says that tactical pole cameras are "force multipliers." He says his agency recently used a Zistos tactical pole camera to end a very difficult barricade incident without law enforcement casualties. The subject was tactically trained, so the situation was very dangerous.

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