|Austin PD uses Panasonic system|
|Written by Richard Segovia and Michael Sheffield|
It was 0130 hours. A lonely black and white police car driven by a police officer was patrolling the north side of the City. It was cold and wet. No calls all night and the shift was already half over. But them something caught his eye. The officer’s attention was drawn to a car pulling out of a vacant lot. He had never seen any motor vehicle activity at this particular location so his suspicions were raised. When he pulled behind the car he noticed a rear brake light was out and he decided to pull the driver, who looked like a young, college-age co-ed, over.
After checking her paperwork and talking to her briefly, he was confident the girl was lost. He sent her on her way with a warning to fix the brake light.
The following morning the young woman called an Internal Affairs detective and claimed the officer inappropriately searched her. The detective immediately activated a program on his laptop computer and flipped it around so the girl could see the screen. Once she realized she was looking at a video of the incident, she abruptly left. She never finished her statement.
When the officer reported to work for his next shift, he was called into the watch commander’s office. The commander told him that a citizen had made allegations against him for misconduct but that an investigation found the charges were unfounded.
What might have turned into a lengthy, expensive and stressful investigation launched as a result of accusations that were not true, was avoided all thanks to a sophisticated in-car camera system that provided a video of the entire encounter.
In 2010 the Austin City Council approved over $15 million dollars for a new digital in-car camera system, proudly making the Austin P.D. an industry leader in 21st century policing.
Less than a year later, we began the process of installing the largest deployment of the Panasonic Arbitrator 360 system in the country with volumes two to three times that of in-car camera systems used by other law enforcement agencies of a similar size to ours. Today over 500 Austin P.D. patrol vehicles and 60 motorcycles have been equipped with the new technology.
We dubbed the new Panasonic digital in-car camera system the “Digital Mobile Audio Video” or “DMAV” for short. It’s the next step up from the VHS mobile video recording system which we installed eight years ago. It was a natural evolution for us as the growing needs of our Department and City made our old VHS system obsolete.
The Arbitrator 360 system provides our agency with digital video documentation of officers’ interactions with the public by recording all motor vehicle stops, enforcement activities and other encounters. We now have unbiased, unedited accounts of all of these events and we are able to provide the public with a transparent and accurate record of what happened.
As successful as the program has been we would not be honest if we did not say that the project has had technological challenges which continue to require the attention of a dedicated team of officers from our Police Technology Unit (PTU). PTU staffers also train our officers on how to use the system. In addition, lending crucial support and expertise are the folks from the Communication and Technology Management Department as well as civilian specialists on the Arbitrator 360 team.
Several triggering events start the camera rolling so officers don’t have to remember to flip it on. The system is even configured to start and save video a few seconds before a triggering event. Officers can view and classify their videos as they occur, and later add snapshots and notes.
Detectives and others throughout the Austin Police Dept. as well as the district attorney’s office can quickly retrieve, view, and make copies of the video for ongoing investigations or for evidence to be admitted to court. Officers with the
Technology Unit develop and enforce the policies on video retention, staff access, and other aspects of the system.
We installed the cameras and recorders in the vehicles, upgraded the in-vehicle computer software, and set up a number of wireless hotspots at police substations. We also established an alternate in-vehicle power supply to power the wireless upload of videos even after the vehicle is turned off.
This alternative battery solution also satisfies the City’s green energy initiative by lessening emissions and reducing gasoline costs which has been a top priority of the citizens of Austin.
The system is able to store about a million hours of video each year which we found was necessary because of the multi-year retention requirements for many of the videos.
Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo has been a strong advocate for our agency’s new DMAV system. As a former chief with the California Highway Patrol, Acevedo has run agencies with and without in-car camera systems and those experiences convinced him that having audio and visual recordings of all the officers interactions is the only way to go.
“Our officers, 99 percent of the time, are doing the right thing,” the Chief said. “So it is in their best interests and the interests of the taxpayer that we record and document their actions. When all is said and done, it’s going help us more than it hurts us. And quite frankly, if we’re doing something wrong we’d like to capture that too so we can take care of business and hold people accountable. I believe this system should become the industry standard for law enforcement.”
Austin Assistant Chief Sean Mannix who was integrally involved with getting the program up and running agrees.
“The greatest benefit is the documentation of the truth,” Mannix says. “When we can go back and review an incident and see what occurred from the perspective of what that officer was facing and what that digital video system was able to capture, that goes a long way towards helping us understand exactly what happened.”