Police testing IBM video system

Yakima Police Department

Several metropolitan police departments across the country are testing a new IBM Corp.-developed digital video system in their cruisers that can capture, store, upload and manage data more easily than analog systems presently in use, the company announced today.

The 118-member Yakima (Wash.) Police Department, piloted the system and plans to install it in its entire 32-cruiser fleet within the next two weeks or so for nearly $500,000, said Capt. Jeff Schneider.

While video recording has been a staple among police officers out in patrol for quite some time, Gary Crowell, a principal within IBM's Integrated Technology Services division, said the process of recording it on a VHS or 8 mm tape, storing it in a library, and then manually searching for relevant video clips needed in a case has been costly and cumbersome.

The IBM system, which was jointly developed by Houston-based Coban Research and Technologies, enables an officer to digitally capture secure video and audio that synchronizes with and captures any metadata, such as a cruiser's speed radar gun, Global Positioning System data, vehicle telemetry, and its mounted lights. An officer finishing a shift would sink the removable hard drive into a cradle and upload two hours worth of data in about five minutes.

While it can be turned on manually, he said if a cruiser involved in a car chase reaches a certain speed, the engine's control module automatically turns on the video system. After an officer's shift, the removable hard drive can be uploaded to a central repository that can store 3.5 terabytes of data, which is the equivalent of nearly 800,000 full-length novels, according to IBM.

"It is really an emerging [market] space," said Crowell, adding that most police departments use analog systems, which are essentially devices anchored in a trunk and manually operated.

Schneider said his department, which has never had an in-car video system, began looking for one about two years ago. The department estimated if it used an analog system, it would amass about 70,000 videotapes annually that would have to be stored, indexed and maintained, he said. It researched and tested several digital systems, but settled on IBM's because it contained the necessary features.

One key component, he said, is pre-event recording. For example, if a vehicle runs a red light, the digital video system, which is already recording, can be programmed to capture two to five minutes of video before an officer actually activates it. So when the officer pulls over the driver, the encounter will be videotaped. Schneider said this system could help support officers accused of misconduct or involved in accidents while on duty.

"That's the most important piece of the pie there that nobody was able to capture," he said. With an analog system, he said officers would miss the transgression and only record the discussion with motorists. With the digital system, an electronic case file is essentially developed, said officials.

Other features of the system include:

* Unique authentication identifier for each video that contains a date and time stamp and officer identification that makes tampering with it difficult.

* Detailed log of officers checking out video hard drives, which have barcodes that can be scanned.

* Quicker search capability — whether using officer identification, date, type of violation, location, and motorist information — of stored video databases and data retrieval for specific clips.

Under the contract, Schneider said the entire fleet would be equipped with new touch-screen, ruggedized computers (that also integrate the department's computer-aided dispatch and record management systems), storage servers, workstations, and extra equipment. The old computers in the cruisers will likely be used elsewhere or donated.

Gail Whipple, vice president of IBM digital media services business, said use of digital video technology, while widely used in the private sector, is beginning to catch on in the public sector.

"The government has been a big IT user for years, but the notion that you can now utilize unstructured data, video, audio images to enrich record retention and service is probably the new notion," she said, adding it's gone beyond just archiving records.


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