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Tactical Cameras Are a Force Multiplier

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.

David Griffith 2017 Headshot

Photo: Mark W. ClarkPhoto: 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.[PAGEBREAK]

"We set up at a house next door and used the Zistos pole camera to clear the back portion and the back upstairs floor of the subject's house," Medina says. "This was from Midnight to two in the morning, so it was dark. But the IR illuminator worked great."

Medina estimates that he and another officer extended the camera's pole out 25 feet to gather the necessary intel. But even at that range the pole was not difficult to maneuver.

Down Range

One drawback to the tactical pole camera is that its range is limited by the length of its pole. Israel's ODF Optronics tried to remedy that problem with a unique tactical camera called the Eyeball R1.

The Eyeball R1, distributed in the United States by Mistral Security, can be thrown into position, regardless of how it lands the softball-sized round camera is designed to right itself and begin transmitting video. It can also be used as a pole camera and even comes with a pole.

Which is a very good thing because unfortunately, throwing the Eyeball doesn't work as well as many SWAT teams have hoped. The problem is not with the technology, it's with the clutter and debris involved in the average barricaded subject's home or office.

"Throwing it is a great idea," says Lt. Jon Blaylock of the Granite City (Ill.) Police Department. "If it winds up in a good spot, it's great."

Unfortunately, according to Blaylock, it's been his experience that the thrown
Eyeball R1 rarely winds up in a good spot. "In the vast majority of hand deployments, Murphy rears his ugly head and it goes into a spot where we can't see anything like under a couch or into a pile of dirty laundry."

Such experiences have not deterred Granite City SWAT from attempting hand deployments because it has two Eyeballs. The kit that it purchased included two camera heads and a pole.

"That's one of the major advantages of the Eyeball system," says Blaylock. As long as the camera heads are within range of the receiver, each camera is on a different frequency, so you can use both at once."

Going Mobile

Even with systems like the Eyeball R1, the range of deployment is limited by how far the operator can toss the unit. But there are some variations on tactical cameras that permit extreme long range deployment.

The Recon Scout Throwbot by Recon Robotics is generally thought of as a robot-and it certainly qualifies as one-but it's really a mobile tactical camera and listening device.

Billed as the "world's most affordable police robot," the Throwbot can be thrown 50 feet, can hear whispers, and can transfer video and sound up to 300 feet outdoors, 100 feet indoors. It's also equipped with infrared illumination for stealthy low-light intel gathering. The Throwbot can, as its name indicates, be thrown into a location and then the operator can use the remote control to reposition it.

Zistos is also developing systems for extending the capabilities of its cameras. At this year's Shooting Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show, the company showed a wi-fi system that can be used to link a PC, iPhone, or iPad to its cameras. The cameras can be set up for stationary surveillance or even on robots for tactical operations.

Another interesting variation on the mobile tactical camera is a K-9 system developed by Tactical Electronics. Mounted on a K-9's back, this system gives a SWAT team a fast-moving intel asset that can actually take down a subject. Images from the camera are transmitted wirelessly to a Tactical Electronics receiver, and a built-in DVR records any interaction between the suspect and the K-9.

Of course, a K-9 fitted with a camera can't be as callously inserted into dangerous situation as a robot or a pole cam. But the idea remains the same: Keeping tactical officers out of harm's way until all appropriate intel has been gathered. The result is fewer police casualties and that too is a force multiplier.

For More Information:

Enforcement Technology Group

Mistral Security


Tactical Electronics


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