Police & Wearable Cameras

police and wearable cameras squareIt’s a familiar scenario. After an encounter with a policeman, someone lies dead or is severely beaten. Citizens complain about police violence, while the police claim they were acting in self-defense.

It almost doesn’t matter who is telling the truth; suspicions build between law enforcement and the community that they are sworn to protect. The public becomes less cooperative, so Investigations are stalled. The police become more fearful, which leads to more force being used, which generates more distrust, and so on.

Wearable cameras are being touted as a way to break this cycle. To improve their relationship with the community, police in the troubled town of Ferguson, Missouri are getting wearable cameras. It is thought that by providing objective evidence, cameras will ease tensions between the public and law enforcement.

It is a thought that a thousand other police departments are having. Police departments adopting or experimenting with wearable cameras include those in Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, Hartford, Fort Worth (Texas), Chesapeake (VA), Modesto (CA), San Francisco, Eugene (Oregon), New York City, Owasso (OK), and Rialto(CA).

Rialto, a medium-size city, is the one that you will be hearing about. A well-publicized study concluded wearable cameras reduced use-of force incidents by 50% and citizen complaints by over 80%.  Other cities have reported similar results.

“In addition to documenting encounters with the public, wearable cameras can help with the tricky task of identification,” explains Richard Lane, Vice-President of AMREL’s Strategic Business Development.  “If the video stream is analyzed by facial recognition software, the officer could, in theory, be informed in real time, if a civilian has warrants or has a dangerous history.  This could give officers an extra level of security, which would reduce the tensions between the public and the police.”

Typically, compact cameras are fixed to an officer’s collar, chest, sunglasses, or even a Taser. Battery packs are designed to last for a full shift. Images are uploaded automatically to a central server.

In order to minimize police “editing” the video stream to be unduly favorable, citizen-rights advocates argue that officer should be unable to turn on or off the camera. In this scenario, the camera is always turned on, running 30 second loops, i.e. the continuous video stream is erased every 30 seconds. More extended and permanent recordings are triggered by specific events, such as traffic stops, or activation of a Taser.  It is not clear how many departments have adopted these policies.

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Police are suspicious

Police, like everyone else are concerned about their privacy. Remember, some are advocating that cameras record all the time, even when the officers are in the bathroom.

The lack of privacy in the modern era has been one of selling points to recalcitrant officers. “You are being video recorded anyway by close-circuit TV or smartphones” argue their superiors. “You might as well have a record that shows your side.”

Patrolmen are also frightened that the video could be used against them by their superiors. What if the higher ranks decide to go after a whistleblower or a union organizer?  It would be a relatively simple matter to review hours of video feed in order to find something incriminating. For this and other reasons, privacy activists advocate that all video not related to an investigation should be automatically erased after a week or so.

In New York City, a Federal judge, reacting to the abuses caused by the controversial stop-and-frisk program, ordered the city to investigate the use of wearable cameras. The president of one of the police unions, Patrick Lynch, complained:

“Our members are already weighed down with equipment like escape hoods, mace, flashlights, memo books, asps [i.e., batons], radio, handcuffs and the like. Additional equipment becomes an encumbrance and a safety issue for those carrying it. Given that the root cause of this stop-and-frisk problem is a significant shortage of police officers in local precincts, it seems to us that the monies spent on a bodycam pilot program would be better spent on hiring more police officers and providing them with extensive field training with an experienced officer.”

Nevertheless, it seems that familiarity breeds acceptance. Typical is the experience of the police in Scottsdale, Arizona. At first, the cameras (which are voluntary) were met with suspicions by the officers. Then they saw how the cameras backed up an officer’s version of events, when he faced a spurious complaint. Like officers in other communities, they are beginning to see cameras as their friends.



The union president quoted above is not the only person concerned about cost.  Cameras range usually range from $300 to $400, but can be higher. Competition between two leading providers, Vievu and Taser International, has driven the cost of the cameras down. Furthermore, it is expected that the price-sensitive mobile device industry will produce even cheaper off-the-shelf models.

However, cameras are only one part of the cost.  Consider:

  • San Francisco will spend $250,000 to put cameras on 50 officers.
  • Owasso (OK) Police spent about $31,500 for 35 cameras and approximately $13,500 for data storage.
  • NYPD will spend $60,000 to initiate a program with 60 cameras.
  • Eugene, Oregon has spent $22,000 on 18 cameras.
  • Scottsdale is reported to have spent $995 per camera, plus software.

The mathematically inclined reader will notice that the costs are exceeding the typical prices of cameras.  That’s because software and storage expenses are considerable.

Storage costs on the cloud are declining, but will remain a significant expense for years to come. Police are finding, like their counterparts in the military, that managing huge amount of video can be extremely resource intensive.

“One reason that software and information storage are expensive is that vendors typically target the very few really large police departments,” reports Mr. Lane.  “More needs to be done in providing scalable solutions to small to middle-size law enforcement entities, perhaps using month-to-month leasing models.”

There is an argument that cameras will pay for themselves. Eugene, Oregon reports that videos often eliminate the need for investigations.  Even when the number of complaints went up, the cost of expensive investigations went down. “It’s hard to argue with video,” said Sgt. Larry Crompton.



Of course, the big issue is privacy. As pointed out above, police have a right to privacy. Furthermore, they are almost unique in the level of intimacy they encounter with the public. They enter people’s homes, and have physical contact with them.

Privacy activists, such as the ACLU, advocate continuous recording and the “30 second” rule as described above. They also think video images should be routinely be erased after a week or two, in order to protect both the police and the public. Hopefully, this will prevent embarrassing videos of otherwise innocent people from appearing on the internet.

Whether you like the ACLU or not, their recommendations will be a factor in how cameras are used.  Click here to see the ACLU proposals.

Access to the videos will be a critical issue. Consider the final paragraph in this article. After quoting all sorts of feel-good statements from the police about the cameras, the newspaper reports:

“Eugene police denied a records request from The Register-Guard for video and complaints against police cited in its reporting. The department cited state public records law that allows an agency to keep secret those records that relate to a personnel investigation into an officer, if no discipline has resulted.”

You see the problem?  It is precisely when the police department rules that an officer is innocent that the video should be accessible to the public. That way objective evidence can validate the department’s decision to clear the officer.

Clearly, policies will have an important effect whether cameras live up to their potential of easing civilian/police tensions.


Seeing is not believing

You may have seen this picture before. It is one of the most famous photographs of the 20th century.

vitenam shot in head

It looks like a man dressed as a civilian being summarily executed by a South Vietnamese official. This picture and the video of the same incident became iconic for the anti-war movement. The shooter, General Nguyen Ngoc Loan (South Vietnamese police), was plagued by this photograph for the rest of his life.

The man being shot was Captain Nguyen Van Lem, a leader of a Viet Cong assassination team.  He had been caught “red-handed” at a mass grave of 34 bound bodies, which included 7 Vietnamese police officers and their families.

In other words, what the video and picture recorded was a policeman exercising understandable (if not justifiable) revenge against a war criminal who had just murdered fellow officers and their families. What people saw was a wanton act of barbarous brutality.

I found only one source for this story. What is inconvertible is that the photographer, Eddie Adams, deeply regretted the photograph (for which he won a Pulitzer Prize), formally apologized to the shooter, and called him a “hero.” Adams wrote:

“Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them; but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths.”

What we can learn from this example is that cameras are not a panacea for easing tensions between the police and the public. Officers see things differently than civilians. Cameras may provide objective evidence. However, according to at least one celebrated photographer, they will best only provide half of the truth.

Cave Computers: Installing sensor networks in a hostile environment

Last year, Dr. BenjaminSchwartz approached AMREL about his need for a mobile computer to install a sensor network in Virginia’s Omega Cave system.  Putting a sensor network in an extensive cave system is no picnic. Dr. Schwartz and his team needed to haul hundreds of pounds of equipment through wet mud, narrow passageways, and steep vertical inclines. The mud alone on a cave researcher’s clothes can be 60 lbs.

Dr. Schwartz needed a computer that is light, mobile, and would absolutely not fail. When you’re miles underground, there are not a lot of options if your computer breaks down.

AMREL recommended the ROCKY DB6.  It not only runs the same programs as the laptop that Dr. Schwartz had been using, but it also is substantially lighter.  Furthermore, it is has been independently certified to be fully rugged, and had been successfully deployed in harsh environments around the world.

 Learn more about the fascinating challenge of installing sensor networks in a cave, and see amazing photos.

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Counter IED training & Mobile Devices

C-IED & Mobile devicesWhen I researched this article about Counter Improvised Explosive Devices (C-IED) training, I couldn’t help thinking about communities near Tijuana in which the the homes are built out of discarded garage doors.  Garage doors aren’t the first thing anyone thinks of when building a house, but the people near the border didn’t have building materials.  So, they looked around and found what was available: discarded garage doors.

Similarly, the military has a problem: training.  As the land wars wind down in Asia (sort of), training domestically becomes more important.  Simultaneously, training budgets are being squeezed. Future operational goals are unpredictable, so training for diverse scenarios is necessary. Live training is expensive, so more has to be done with less.  Rapid technological change means rapid change in doctrine and tactics. It is important that feedback from ongoing missions be incorporated as soon as possible into training.

Just like the folks in Tijuana, the military looked around for available materials to solve their problems.  What they found were mobile devices.  Just like garage doors are not normally associated as the basic building materials for houses, nobody in boot camp ever told a soldier that their best friend is their smart phone.

So far, mobile devices have proven to be a pretty good fit. Mobile devices are excellent platforms for virtual programs, videos, interactive simulation systems, and smart books. Familiarity with specialized military apps allows the soldier to seamlessly transition to operations in which mobile devices are used as lightweight, mobile repositories for doctrinal manuals, as well as maintenance & technical manuals. They can even be used for educational games (in the past soldiers learned to identify soviet aircraft from specially designed playing cards).

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Their single most important quality of mobile devices is that they are dynamic.  No more paper manuals or books that are outdated by the time they are printed. Mobile devices can be updated instantly.

The embrace of mobile devices for training reflects a subtle, but meaningful change. The old model of attending a class where a teacher pours knowledge into a soldier’s empty heads is fading.  Instead, the soldier is trained to learn.  He is given personal responsibility for his education and he is expected to be disciplined about continuously improving his skill sets. He will carry this self-motivated attitude into the field, where he will need to constantly refresh his knowledge. The 24/7, anywhere, anytime nature of mobile devices fits this outlook perfectly.

The old formula to deal with the ever increasing burden of training soldiers was “train the trainer.” The new model may be described as “equip the learner.”

These trends are reflected in counter IED training. Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) is tasked with countering the “number one killer of Soldiers on the current battlefields worldwide.”  As they state on their training webpage, “Because the IED threat is constantly changing, the counter-IED fight is dynamic, and maintaining effectiveness remains an enduring requirement of training solution development.”  Just like the rest of the military, JIEDDO has embraced mobile devices as a solution for the need of continuous training.

For the purposes of C-IED training, JIEDDO’s Instructional Technology Development Team (ITDT) developed what it describes as “Digital Learning Content products.”  It is telling that these “products” support several types of learning: institutional, operational, and self-development.  Just offering these options conveys an important message; a warfighter’s training never ceases.

Through its Joint Center of Excellence, (JCOE), JIEDDO has a small team of personnel located in Afghanistan conducting an exhaustive lessons-learned program.   Brigade and regimental combat team staffs are debriefed at 90-day, mid-tour, and post-deployment milestones.  Training is updated with relevant information.

Let’s formulate a hypothetical example in which updated information could be critical. The enemy favors planting IEDs on roads a military vehicle has previously used. Currently, warfighters use a map application on their mobile devices to avoid routes that have been already traveled.  Suppose the enemy wises up to this tactic? Considering the flexibility and ingenuity they have shown in the past, this is certainly possible. A sudden switch in tactics could make the most-used road the safest one. Thanks to mobile devices, a warfighter can be informed of this life-saving information in real time.

In keeping with the military’s aversion to committing to any specific hardware, these Digital Learning Content products are available on multiple platforms. The Digital Learning Content products described above were deliberately designed to function within a “Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)” environment.

However, as the distinction between training and deployment becomes blurred, the military cannot ignore basic hardware issues.  If mobile devices are used for field training (and communication, situational awareness, and other purposes), how secure is it?  Is the information on it secure if a soldier is captured with his mobile device?   Is a password log-in good enough protection?   Is there a software solution that can thoroughly wipe the hard drive if the wrong key combination is pressed?   Or does it require a physical anti-tamper device that melts the whole thing down?  If it does have wireless and/or Bluetooth, how do you make it hack/virus/malware proof?

The military has focused on creating applications, specifically to avoid committing to one hardware device. Obviously, this is completely impractical for devices carried in theater.  Logistics for heterogeneous platforms would be a nightmare.

Which brings us to the critical issue of ruggedness. Commercial mobile devices, such as smartphones, are notoriously fragile. Obviously, fully rugged devices are needed in theater. If training is designed to seamlessly blend from stateside to areas of operations, doesn’t it make sense to use the same mobile device? Rugged mobile devices for domestic training would decrease the amount of downtime due to equipment failure and breakage.

JIEDDO has made significant progress in incorporating mobile devices into their training, and adjusting their doctrine to meet contemporary needs.  Still, more needs to be done.

For more information on rugged mobile devices, contact Rob Culver, AMREL’s Director of Business Development – DoD Programs. He can be reached at (603) 325 3376 or robertc@amrel.com.

DB6 & Target Acquisition [VIDEO]

This amazing video illustrates how the DB6 is integrated into a lightweight Ground Target Acquisition System (GTAS).  Made by the Israeli defense giant, IAI, the GTAS is clearly designed for the classic Special Forces mission, i.e. a small number of soldiers infiltrate enemy territory and locate targets.

Read more

Seven things you should know about FirstNet

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe First Responder Network Authority, known as FirstNet, was established by Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012.  It is tasked with creating a single nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network.  Vendors are hungrily eyeing its $7 billion budget, while many public safety officials hope that it will finally provide leadership and relief for the long standing problem of interoperability.

Here are seven things you should know about FirstNet: Read more

Do you need a rugged computer?

Do you need a rugged computer


When AMREL did its annual review, we were surprised by one finding: there was a marked uptick in the number of people buying rugged computers for personal use. While there has always a few folks who bought rugged platforms for themselves, our traditional customer base has been overwhelmingly enterprise oriented.

Why this sudden interest in rugged computers by consumers? Should you be considering a rugged computer for yourself or your organization?

Read more

What to look for in a rugged handheld device [Infographic]

Handheld infographicThis handy-dandy animated infographic gives tips for evaluating rugged handhelds.  View it here.

Defense Tech Briefs spotlights the DB6

AMREL’s handheld DB6 is on the cover of this month’s Defense Tech Briefs.  April’s issue’s featured article is “Improving Battlefield Connectivity for Dismounted Forces,” so it’s only natural that they would spotlight the smallest, rugged, handheld in the world that can run a full Windows OS.  Click here  to read about the search for the ideal front-line computing platform.

NIE Smartphone Results

The Army has just finished its second Network Integration Evaluation (NIE).  This large exercise appears to have accomplished its primary goals of accelerating the notoriously slow acquisition process, field-testing entire networks, and gathering valuable end-user feedback. Sometime massive bureaucratic efforts do work.

Although complete tactical communication systems were tested, the smartphones were the center of attention.  Some results are already filtering out. Read more

Did the Smartphone give ARMY the JTRS?

Recently the ARMY announced the cancellation of its current contract for the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) Ground Mobile Radio System.  Did its highly publicized plans for a battlefield smartphone have something to it?

An uniformed person might think, “Sure, what does the ARMY need JTRS for, when they’re going for a smartphone?” Actually, the smartphone’s success depends on JTRS.

While security is usually described as the Number 1 concern for the battlefield phone, the lack of cellular service in potential combat zones has emerged as a major obstacle (Razorianfly).  Almost all the proposed solutions for dealing with connectivity are partial. Some of the more innovative solutions include installing cellular equipment on blimps, UAVs, and aerostats.  There’s even talk of a “cell tower in a suitcase.” Read more