Pressing record

Getting a picture of what to consider in a non-traffic law enforcement video camera


     The video camera, in its many forms, has integrated itself into law enforcement's day-to-day practices and tactics. From recording harrowing clips of dangerous interactions at traffic stops to peering into a barricaded room to capturing the drug deal in the dark, the video camera can almost be considered "necessity" over "tool."

     Budgets are tight, this is common knowledge. With the video camera providing law enforcement such a variety of capabilities, the combination of budget and the purchase of a potentially expensive video camera can render an agency's buyer out of focus.

     "[A camera] helps protect not only the public but also the officer," says Chuck Garrett, international business development manager for Safety Vision. Among many other benefits, officers use it for evidentiary purposes, instead of relying on someone's testimonials if what happened was in question.

     "There's nothing more real or more non-biased than a video of an interaction," Garrett adds.

     While cameras provide law enforcement with a vital tool, they also are commonly paired with a substantial price tag. When researching a new video camera, buyers would benefit from knowing and understanding the needs and requirements that future uses will necessitate.

     "One of the things to ask when you pick out a camera is what is going to be the main purpose or the main use — how is it going to function," advises TacView founder, retired Sgt. George Gilmer.

     "[Officers] have to consider camera accessibility, lighting and environment of the area that needs to be inspected," agrees Bob Levine, president of Zistos Corp. "In other words, you don't want to use just a security camera."

     Noting this, video camera technology transgresses to different roles for the law enforcement officer's toolbox. "In most cases, certainly on a tactical side, you need to look in inaccessible or dangerous areas, so you want the camera to bear the load of danger," he says. "Put the camera in harm's way, not your head."

Points of interest

     The task of purchasing law enforcement equipment lacks a psychic's crystal ball; officers simply cannot peer into the lens and ask for the best choice. Points to consider when choosing a camera include:

     • Amount of ruggedness

     With Mil-Spec's web of codes, the definition of "rugged" transposes from product to product regarding the type of electronic device and intended use. Still, Zistos' Levine says the rugged aspect remains an important detail.

     "In many instances, you will be in a situation where the stress level is high and you're not always thinking of handling your equipment delicately," notes Bob Levine. It may be pouring rain, dirty or other environmentally unfriendly areas hostile to electronics.

     He adds: "These cameras are uniquely form factored and not something you're going to buy at an electronics store."

     • Resolution

     Consumer electronics typically have higher resolutions, deeper darks, thinner panels and larger screens; yet top-of-the-line products seem to run at top-of-the-line prices. Such complex resolution specifications, while attractive, may not be best suited for law enforcement's video camera solutions.

     Barry Levine, vice president of business development with Sperry West, explains that if an agency utilizes a device with a 400-line recording capability, no matter how high of a resolution or line count the camera may feature, the recording will only be recorded at 400 line resolution. "The problem is the recorder; you have to have a recorder that is capable of recording the same or better quality," he adds.

     Tactical cameras, such as pole cameras, are less dependent on a high resolution — it's more vital for officers is to be able to see the suspect and the presence of any weapon. However, investigative cameras may need more resolution to recognize objects and/or signs of tampering.

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