Law enforcement professionals conduct interviews with hundreds or perhaps even thousands of individuals every year, and each interview is as different as the background and personality of the interviewee. So, what happens when an interview turns into a case of "he said, she said?"
Recordant Inc., an Alpharetta, Georgia-based company, hopes its latest product will help officers combat situations where a suspect or witness challenges a report. About the size of an iPod, the Audio Witness is a technological tool that assists officers in the line of questioning. But there are other uses for it as well. For instance, Audio Witness is able to protect officers with recorded proof against false allegations. Previously unsubstantiated claims, which could otherwise affect an officer's performance record, can be compared with the objective data collected by the recording device. According to Recordant, the information could also contain key pieces of evidence or corroborate the account of an officer who responded to a call alone. Perhaps most interesting is that Audio Witness can also be used as a training tool to educate officers, and improve and measure performance.
Introduced in April, Audio Witness provides a reliable and non-biased way to record and review an interview. It features Personal Recording Device (PRD) technology to chronicle the audio interactions between the public and law enforcement officers. Whether it is used alone or in conjunction with an in-vehicle video system, it is designed to improve note-taking accuracy. It also protects officers in the same way.
"Law enforcement officers deserve the protection of Audio Witness," says Ron Lau, vice president of strategic development and general counsel at Recordant. "False accusations arising from interactions with the general public are distressingly common."New tech for an old concept
Audio Witness uses an Application Service Provider (ASP) platform for audio capture, archiving and evidentiary needs. Approximately 10 to 12 hours of recording time is available, and Recordant guarantees the highest standards for security, ensuring that all encrypted recordings are un-editable, which in turn ensures the evidence's integrity.
For quick and easy use, the system includes all of the necessary software, hardware, portable recording devices and docking stations. Access to Audio Witness is available anytime, anywhere. Officers can upload the recorded information via Web-based programs, which is especially important for law enforcement in today's instant-access age. The recordings are then readily available to officers and commanders to manage, store or review online.
"We know officers have been recording for many years. It's not a new concept," says Chris Etters, CEO of Recordant. Although other companies sell recording equipment, most of them are retail-type systems, Etters adds.
"This product is tuned specifically to capture just about everything that's said."
The Audio Witness device is so tuned in to capturing audio that it is able to record a subject in even the most raucous situations. For law enforcement professionals, that can be critical, especially considering the multitude of situations officers can find themselves in. Recordant has considered the environmental challenges that officers face when recording outside of a quiet interrogation room.
"We have police standing at the side of the highway with a bus pulled next to them," Etters says. "[Even] with all the ambient noise, you can still hear the recording clearly. Audio Witness was built for these situations."
Although the technology is new, the Audio Witness has been tested and used in the field, mostly in military situations. Prior to the April 2008 launch, Recordant partnered with a law enforcement agency to participate in a pilot project with the device since mid-February. However, the agency declined to be involved with this article for security purposes.
Etters emphasizes the positive experiences between Recordant and the military, specifically the National Guard, and thinks the fit is equally important for law enforcement. He is confident that as more and more information becomes available, additional agencies will follow suit.
"The fact that we are now able to provide a product that serves police officers, so soon after our successes working with the soldiers of the National Guard, is particularly satisfying," he says.
"I look forward to working with the law enforcement community to ensure officers are properly protected and, as a result, the public is properly served."To protect, serve and educate
John Abraham, partner at Kodiak Venture Partners and Recordant investor, has been involved in the evolution of Audio Witness from another perspective.
Abraham is an adjunct instructor at the Wake Forest University, North Carolina, Entrepreneurship Society and the Office of Entrepreneurship and Liberal Arts (OELA), and used Audio Witness in approximately 14 of his classes this year.
"It was wonderfully successful," Abraham says.
According to Abraham, the benefits in the educational setting were to monitor the usage patterns of students who chose to try the Audio Witness product.
"At the beginning, they used it out of curiosity," Abraham says. But after more students volunteered to use Audio Witness, the interest seemed to spread. Prior to two class presentations and the final exam, Abraham says the students jumped all over the opportunity to use it.
In an educational or classroom setting, there are many opportunities for distraction. Abraham thinks that Audio Witness might help educators and students to re-evaluate the way classes are conducted as well as the students' study methods.
"We're trying to change education. We don't want students to take notes," Abraham says. In today's classrooms, many students have laptops. As an instructor, he encourages students to close their computers, listen and take light notes. He wants Recordant's Audio Witness to assist students by supplementing their traditional note-taking, which is important because it could be directly related to their retention rate, grades and overall success in the class.
Audio Witness allows the students to take notes, digest the information and then compare it to the recorded lecture later to add information they might have missed.
"If you let your brain soak in the information and you need to review it [later], you'll have it all ready," Abraham says. "You can review your notes from anywhere in the world."A higher level of service
Overall, Audio Witness helps discover the various ways officers can use this system to identify which officers need additional training, and this eventually allows for an improved and higher level of service in the office and in the field. It also gives officers the opportunity to perfect their methods, which leads to increased professional development and ensures officers follow procedures per protocol. Ultimately, this leads to citizens receiving the most professional services possible from law enforcement agencies, and could also lead to increased trust between officers and the community.