In-car video has truly been one of the game-changers in law enforcement. In many parts of the country, the units are more common than in-car computers. The technology has improved immensely over the past decade and many agencies are seeking to upgrade. For those who don’t already have in-car video, the combination of decreasing prices and increasing capabilities is proving very tempting. This is an area where you have to get it right or you will waste a lot of money and frustrate your personnel. Do your homework. This month’s Tech Talk will help you understand some of the issues. —Dale Stockton
Here at Tech Talk, we’re working on a whole range of product category overview and product reviews, and one of the first is video. Here’s an update for the benefit of anyone who’s spent the past year or so on Venus: Video is permeating the world of law enforcement, and this will only increase.
What do we mean? As we described in the inaugural Tech Talk column, Taser International has launched and is heavily marketing its Axon video product, which is worn like a Bluetooth headset. This entry in the area of “body-worn” video is competing with several other products—from the semi-expensive, high-quality and LE-purpose-built, such as VieVU, to the cheap-and-cheerful entries like the $100 i-Kam Xtreme from Predator Products, which was originally marketed to hunters but is being used by many agencies around the country.
The even bigger arena here is that of in-car, or dash-cam, video. Although these systems can be very expensive to buy (even those “lower-cost” entries), it’s the total cost of ownership that agencies must consider before pulling the trigger. (See sidebar for top in-car video contenders.)
So before we start talking about and comparing specific systems, we thought we’d go over the top five things to think about before contacting any in-car video vendor.
The specter of officer video showing up on YouTube concerns administrators, but the security of the system itself should also be considered. As we wrote at policeledintelligence.com in May, a security research firm on assignment from a city successfully infiltrated their police vehicle network and downloaded live, streaming video right from the dash cam. (Kevin Finisterre of the security research firm Digital Munition wrote a report on this, titled “Owning a Cop Car.” Check it out at www.digitalmunition.com/OwningCopCar.pdf.)
Whenever you consider in-car video (or any other mission-critical law enforcement technologies), ask some fundamental questions. Is this purpose-built for law enforcement? Or has it been adapted from another market? (In the case of the hacked dash cam stream, the video product had been adapted from school bus use). Has the vendor taken security seriously? Is access protected by a password by default? Are the videos encrypted at least when saved to smart-card or disk, or in transit over a public network? And security doesn’t end at access to the box. The security and admissibility of the videos themselves is important to understand. Specifically, are the videos themselves tamper-resistant or tamper-evident?
4. Video Management
By far the largest burden of video systems in an agency is managing the library of recordings. What facilities does the product provide? This applies to original recordings (how big is the buffer before one hits the “record” button?) to managing the library. If the video is in some proprietary format, then copying, transferring, sharing and editing in other systems will be problematic. Some vendors do this to increase your “lock-in” to them. Ask the vendor what kind of archival system it offers, and get a solid idea of the associated costs you can expect to face over the product’s lifetime.
3. Form Factor
How big is this thing? How much window real estate does it take up, and how much visibility does it reduce? Can you sync multiple mics? And how good are the mics? Don’t forget to inquire about audio quality as well as video quality. What external components does it require to function, and how does it integrate with existing in-car software and hardware, like computers, network components and power?
2. Service Record?
How many agencies run this gizmo? Get a list from the vendor (which will only, of course, include those thrilled with the product). Also Google the name of the product, but tell Google not to look on the vendor’s site by putting a minus sign next to it. See if other agencies have said good or bad things about it: Google the name of the product plus words like “problem” and “support” and “issue.” See what you turn up.
And, hey, while we’re here: Think about asking the vendor if they’ll give your agency any consideration, should you decide to buy, for providing press release quotes and serving as a referral for prospective customers. The answer’s always “no” until you ask.
1. Fiscal Viability of the Vendor
This may well be the most important thing to speak with the vendor about: How do I know you’ll be around in three years? It’s a tough question to answer, and their specific answers are going to be as telling as the way they approach answering you. If they’re eager and open about their revenues and customers, this is a great sign. But pay attention to the details.
Bottom line: Return on investment with any video system increases with the life of the product. If your vendor goes bust or gets acquired, your ROI can plummet—especially when you’re stuck for service and replacement parts.
We’ll be back on this subject with specific product reviews and feature discussions both in the magazine and on LawOfficer.com. Stay tuned!
You Have Options
There are a lot of great in-car video systems out there. For more information, check out these vendors.
L-3 Mobile Vision
MPH Industries Inc.
Got a product you want us to talk about here or online? Drop us a line: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Neither the authors nor Law Officer receive compensation or consideration for coverage in this column.