In the television series, Candid Camera, producers concealed cameras to film ordinary people confronted with unusual situations, sometimes involving trick props, such as a desk with drawers that popped open when another one was closed or a car with a hidden extra gas tank. Later when the joke was revealed, the victims were told, "Smile, you're on Candid Camera."
Today, officers wearing the new VIDMIC, a fully operational shoulder mic equipped with a video and audio recorder and a still camera, might say something similar to the suspects they encounter in the field.
This revolutionary data acquisition system from Ear Hugger Safety Equipment (EHS) Inc. fits within an officer's shoulder mic and goes everywhere the officer goes to record important information in the field, the value of which cannot be underestimated, says Mike Marshall, vice president of sales and part owner of EHS Inc.
"Everything is being documented," he says of the system being used by more than 100 departments across the country. "This cuts down on lawsuits and false accusations against officers, increases successful court prosecutions, and when people know they are being recorded, they become less likely to be aggressive toward officers."Building video evidence
EHS got its start in 2004 selling earpieces for two-way radios. Shortly after that, its customers began requesting audio recorders to document officer interactions with the public, and developers quickly moved from the idea of adding audio to including both audio and video on an officer's shoulder mic.
The company launched research and development efforts and within short order got the technology to the point it is today, which is an extremely lightweight and small unit (no larger than the officer's existing shoulder mic piece) that can record 3.5 hours of video with its lithium battery. The device utilizes separate batteries for the shoulder mic, and the camera and audio functions, to prevent a loss of power to the mic. "Officers never need to worry about losing access to their lifeline," Marshall explains.
After deciding to add both audio and video, the company realized there were inherent benefits to adding a still camera as well. Officers often must photograph evidence at the scene. The VICMIC's 5.36-megapixel camera produces high-quality images to document evidence and its 1.5-inch LCD on the back enables officers to place everything squarely in the frame before photographing it.Operating the VIDMIC
The VIDMIC's full-color LCD screen provides many important pieces of information. When turned on it displays: the remaining memory, the number of files stored in memory, battery status, and the time and date of the recording. While capturing video, the LCD screen shows that video recording is in progress and indicates the battery status and time elapsed. It also stamps every second of video with the time and date.
The LCD can be manually turned on and off, depending an officer's particular need. When patrolling at night, safety and stealth dictate that the LCD be shut off. When the LCD is on, the system features an automatic shut off to place the unit in sleep mode when not recording in order to preserve battery power.
The American Fork (Utah) Police Department has employed VIDMICs since the product was in beta testing. After using the devices for several months, the agency purchased a VIDMIC for each of its 33 officers. Though the LCD presents what may appear to be a daunting amount of information, Sgt. Sam Liddiard of the American Fork PD says officers have found the device inherently simple to use. In fact, he says it literally took less than 5 minutes to train Grand Forks officers in its use. The system, which he says is built upon the KISS principal, has an on/off and a record button. Officers simply point the unit in the direction they want to record and push the record button. When they are finished recording, they shut it off.