Last month New Jersey enacted a law that requires all new patrol cars purchased by law enforcement agencies in the state to be equipped with in-car video systems or the officers operating them to wear on-body cameras. It's likely other states will follow.
The root of the New Jersey law was the false arrest of a legislator for DWI. But the reason other states will likely pass law enforcement video laws of their own is Ferguson. The constant TV coverage of mayhem in the streets of that St. Louis suburb and the cost of the many pending lawsuits stemming from the original shooting incident and the subsequent demonstrations are a wakeup call for many state legislatures.
What all this means is that a lot of agencies are going to be in the market for in-car video systems during the rest of 2014 and through 2015. And the good news is that these tools are following the standard economic track of high-tech products—as manufacturers make the systems better, the prices are stabilizing and even going down.
Here's a look at some of the latest in-car video systems for law enforcement operations.
At approximately the size of a VHS tape, Coban's Fusion HD takes up very little real estate in a patrol vehicle. "Fusion is the most compact system on the market, but it packs all the features of a sophisticated, modular in-car video solution," says David Hinojosa, Coban's vice president of marketing and business development.
One of the most intriguing features of the Fusion HD is its ability to recover video long after the fact, even if the operator didn't tell the system to record a particular event. Hinojosa says this capability is enabled by the system's dual-drive architecture. "Fusion incorporates FailSafe technology, which records in the background any time the system is on, even without the operator triggering an event recording. FailSafe allows you to recover video from the internal drive hours or even days before an event-triggered recording," he says.
High-definition video quality is, as the product's name implies, another key feature of the Fusion HD system. Coban says the system records HD quality at all times.
Additional features include a 70-degree wide-angle lens, smart power management, a 4.3-inch touchscreen display, support for two wireless mics, optional wireless upload, and browser-based evidence management software that allows officers to view video evidence from car, body, and interview room cameras on any Internet-capable device.
Hinojosa says the system's compact size is one of its greatest benefits for budget-conscious agencies. "We designed Fusion to make in-car video accessible for more agencies," he says. "Its small size and simple installation make it easy to deploy. It's ready to go right out of the box."
CopTrax has a lot of the features found on many of its competitors, but so far it is the only in-car video system that integrates with a wearable computer, in this case Google Glass. It also streams real-time video from the field to supervisors who can view the live event from any Internet-capable device, and the video can be uploaded to the Cloud or to a secure server.
"There is only one camera that shows what the officer sees, as he sees it, directly from his perspective, and is able to stream that video live—in real time—to an Internet-connected computer back at headquarters or literally anywhere, and that's CopTrax," says Bill Switzer, the company's video product manager.
To enhance officer safety and efficiency, CopTrax has a geographic alert feature. Officers are warned when they are entering areas where other officers have experienced trouble. Agencies can also assign specific trouble areas on the map, and the system will alert officers when they enter and leave the boundary. This feature can be used to remind officers to pay more attention to specific locations.
The evidence management software for CopTrax can store and organize video from car, body, and interview room cameras. The software also allows users to transfer evidence to others, such as prosecutors, via a time-sensitive URL.
Last year at the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Show in Philadelphia, Digital Ally introduced a new in-car video system and a way to integrate it with the company's officer-worn video system.
The DVM-800 is a feature-rich but economical four-camera in-car video solution. Its features include 720-pixel video resolution, dual camera simultaneous recording, mirror display, automatic recording triggers, pre-event recording, and vehicle and event metadata capture. Digital Ally says the DVM-800 is a solid system, at a good price, with a high-quality feature set.
But the real innovation last year from Digital Ally was VuLink, a hardware and software interface between the company's in-car systems and its FirstVu HD body camera. VuLink allows the automatic triggers on the company's in-car systems to trigger an officer's on-body camera. For example, agencies can set the system to trigger both the in-car and on-body camera when emergency lights are activated. Both systems can also be triggered simultaneously by manually turning on one or the other. In order to trigger the car system with a body camera via VuLink, the user has to be within 200 feet.
The G3 Vision in-car video system from Kustom Signals is a four-camera system that takes full advantage of that configuration. It records simultaneously on all four cameras, with up to three minutes of pre-event recording on two of them.
Some key features of the G3 Vision include: 720-pixel resolution on all cameras, mirror display, wireless audio, hard-wired in-car mic, and controller selection. The system can be controlled from the mirror display or from the car's MDC.
One of the most unusual products in the law enforcement in-car video market is Kustom Signals' G3 Vision Extreme. It's a G3 Vision system in which the recorder is encased in a special temperature-resistant vault. The company says a G3 Vision inside the Extreme Vault can operate at Fahrenheit temperatures ranging from 67 degrees below zero to 185 degrees above zero.
All Kustom Signals video systems operate with the company's Eyewitness Data Vault back-end software. Eyewitness Data Vault is a digital video management system that organizes video files and other digital evidentiary assets locally or across a network. The software enables simple and advanced file searches, multi-camera synchronous playback, and easy file duplication.
The FlashBack3 is L-3 Mobile-Vision's most popular in-car video system. It's a solid-state system with no moving parts that supports up to five cameras.
L-3 says the FlashBack3 is extremely energy stingy, consuming 80% less power than comparable in-car video solutions. Features include: D-1 video resolution, hands-free operation, up to 32GB of storage, a choice of camera lenses—wide angle and standard—and automated file transfer at 802.11n speed.
OEM Micro's entry in the law enforcement in-car video market is the MDVS-2. Available in two- or four-camera configurations, the MDVS features 720-pixel resolution on all channels.
Features include: an internal hard drive that can hold up to 1,100 hours of data; built-in GPS; eight independent alarm inputs for triggering cameras; touchscreen controls for manual record, zoom, and playback; and automatic wireless download.
Back-end software from OEM Micro gives users the ability to add up to 20 data fields to each recorded incident. These fields can be used to add search criteria for later use. Incident Sorter Software allows authorized users to search and sort files, add metadata, attach still images and scanned documents, and e-mail or burn files to CD or DVD.
The Arbitrator 360° HD is Panasonic's rugged mobile digital video evidence capture system. It boasts six cameras for a 360-degree view of the incident. Image quality is 1,080 pixels from the front-facing camera and 720 pixels on the other five.
Panasonic says the Arbitrator 360° HD offers the highest quality video capture in the market, and its cameras are based on the company's surveillance camera technology. The company adds that the Arbitrator 360° HD cameras offer excellent low-light capture and color representation.
The Arbitrator 360° HD system was engineered to work with Panasonic's SafeServ Evidence Management Software Suite. SafeServ is a secure and easily customized solution for managing digital evidence, including video files and still images.
One of the more interesting aspects of Safety Vision's new ICOP Pro system is its size. The ICOP Pro's DVR is about the size of a standard commercial car radio, so it can be easily mounted in any patrol vehicle.
A key feature of the ICOP Pro is a 4.3-inch TFT LCD Power Control Monitor for live viewing, video playback, configuration setup, and event marking. Other features include mirror recording to a backup SD card, a lockable media door, and a mag strip reader on the Power Control Monitor for quick capture of driver license data.
The ICOP Pro is available with a 1TB hard drive or a 128GB SD card for evidence storage. It is compatible with Safety Vision's ICOP MCAM cameras and Extreme wireless mics. Backend software for managing evidence captured by the ICOP Pro also works with Safety Vision's Prima Facie body-worn video system.
Since 1999 Alabama-based AngelTrax has been producing vehicle video systems for school buses, metro systems, and locomotives. This summer AngelTrax entered the law enforcement market with the release of its VizuCop 360 in-car video system for law enforcement.
The VizuCop 360 offers up to eight channels of video and eight channels of audio. Features include: 900-line analog-to-digital resolution, 5-inch rearview mirror monitor, Wifi download, streaming video, DVR health monitoring software called MOTOTrax, and evidence management software called MOTOLinks. Another key feature of the VizuCop 360 is its dual-lens, front-firing camera. One lens captures the full scene of a traffic stop, while the other automatically records license plate data. VizuCop 360 also offers Virtual Synchronized Mapping (VSM), which encodes the address of the incident and a map showing the location into each video.
Options available for the VizuCop 360 include the Automated Archiving System and the Tagging Pad.
The patent-pending VizuCop Automated Archiving System accommodates up to five slide-rail hard drives used in patrol vehicles and a key-locking slide-rail, 1TB master hard drive. MOTOLinx LE, the VizuCop archiving manager, automatically transfers video clips from each patrol hard drive onto the master drive and organizes them according to officer involved, vehicle, event type, and date.
Tagging Pad allows officers to add information to the video such as the type of incident involved and the case number. Pushing a button on the Tagging Pad takes a snapshot with one of the forward-facing lenses and sends that image to pre-selected e-mail addresses. The Tagging Pad's integrated RFID reader embeds the officer's name in the video footage and allows for a seamless switch in drivers.
WatchGuard is well known in law enforcement for its 4RE HD in-car video system, which was one of the first 720-pixel resolution dashcams. Features of the 4RE include multiple resolution recording in either HD or SD, multiple video transfer options, dual drives, 4.3-inch touchscreen display, and Record-After-The-Fact, which allows users to capture video from previous days that was not triggered.
This summer WatchGuard released a motorcycle version of the 4RE video system. The 4REm features a new high-intensity waterproof LCD display, a waterproof camera, solid state hard drive, and model specific mounting hardware.
"Our new motorcycle system is designed to provide years of trouble-free service while being operated in a high-vibration, outdoor environment," says Robert Vanman, founder and CEO of WatchGuard Video. "4REm utilizes fully industrial grade components (instead of commercial grade components) and the display/control panel features a cast aluminum sealed housing (instead of plastic or polycarbonate). This helps ensure the system lasts much longer in the field."