Friday, August 23, 2013

Police tech: Body cams, Google Glass, and cop cars of the future

A decade ago Texas passed significant incentives as part of its 2003 racial profiling statute to put dashcams in police cars, with voters approving $18 million to pay for departments to install them. At the time the police unions complained of "Big Brother" and chiefs said they couldn't afford the expense. Since then, dashcams have proven invaluable both in prosecuting crime and protecting officers from false accusations, as well as occasionally catching police misconduct on video (at least when they don't conveniently "malfunction," which is a recurring theme when misconduct allegations arise). Very few Texas LEOs complain about them anymore, the benefits so far outweigh the detriments.

Now a new generation of cameras - so-called "body cams" - are stirring up a nearly identical debate. Cops in New York City are balking at their use. But Fort Worth, Austin, and other cities are both joining the trend of agencies experimenting with body cams, and where they're in use police officials sing their praises. Here's a news report out of California where the Rialto PD has decided to use body cams for all their officers:

In particular they find them useful for writing reports and ensuring that law enforcement testimony is as credible and backed up as possible. The cameras aren't a cure-all but they'd solve a lot of problems and prevent many he-said she-said disputes.

A related technological development are law enforcement applications being designed for Google Glass, where officers would get information related to vehicles, suspects, video feeds, etc., though the Google Glass technology in real time. According to Tech Crunch (Aug. 19):
Mutualink is demoing one such app today at APCO, a conference for public safety communications, with its Glass App for police, firefighters and first responders.

The app would allow public safety officers and officials to communicate in real-time via streaming video from the scene, as well as to receive and view key documents, including things like building schematics, medical records of victims, live feeds of security cameras in the area and more. It’s the ultimate on-demand intel platform for agents working in the field, and a way to stay in contact with HQ and other organizations even when radio systems won’t talk to each other.

Of course, there could be privacy concerns with such an app. Recently, news came out that NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other officials in the U.S. oppose the idea of police body cameras, suggesting they’d be open to all kinds of dangerous interpretation. Mutualink says its solution emphasizes agency control of media and recording on glass, so privacy would be in the hands of the cops and other officials using them and should be protected.

A tactical heads-up display being used by safety officers is a natural fit for Glass, and as the enforcement agents would be using the head-mounted computer as part of their uniform, they wouldn’t have to worry about looking like idiots, so this could be a place where Google actually finds some long-term adoption. Mutualink is also already a service provider used by NATO Special Operations Forces, homeland security, police and fire departments, so it has the relationships in place to make this happen.

It’s not Robocop, but it’s a step closer.
Robocop, indeed! This application brings to mind fantasy and science fiction scenarios that not long ago seemed too fantastic to believe. Readers with children might recall J.K. Rowling's "Omnioculars" in the Harry Potter series where sports fans (in that case, Quidditch) could see instant replays, slow down action and retrieve detailed information about the game, players, strategies, etc., by looking through magical lenses.  Or, consider the contemporary TV show, Continuum, on the SciFi channel, where the main character is a cop from the future who wears a special suit linked to a chip in her head that presents real-time data linkages, facial recognition analyses, and even monitors vital signs of people in view of the agent. Suddenly, those sorts of uses seem less fanciful than just a short time ago.

While we're on the subject of police tech, the Los Angeles Auto Show asked car manufacturers to come up with examples of what police vehicles would/should look like in 2025. See a slideshow with examples.

The Google Glass app, police body cams, and probably even the vehicles could and likely would  eventually be merged, giving police more information on the world around them but also gathering video and audio of what the cop sees, hears, says and does - these technologies inevitably cut both ways.


Brad Walters said...

There was an article in the Chronicle about six months ago talking about a 100 cop trial program for body cams. Have not heard a word about it since then. Guess the thugs' union put a stop to that. They would not want to have to stop the beat downs when the bad guys make them run.

Anonymous said...

Body cams are great, when they are turned on. And unless there is a harsh penalty under law to discourage it, cops will continue to deactivate them when they beat or shoot some undeserving citizen. Cameras are, as cops themselves readily admitted after the Rodney King video, their greatest enemy.

Anonymous said...

Report writing and court time cut more than half. Can't wait.

Unknown said...

Take a look at what was deleted from the "certified" police video in my case.

Anonymous said...

To: the Grand Jury Clubs’ of Texas and potential Jury Panels’ of tomorrow,

If there were more than two people involved in the deletion of certain portions or all of the Bailey Encounter (or any encounter regarding humans, pets & animals then it goes without saying that it should trigger an automatic RICO investigation, just like it should when any public servant goes rogue with evidence. As it is now, they investigate themselves.

Evidence is evidence. That includes the moments prior to exiting a Unit, during the entire encounter & up until the moment one has relinquished control of a detainee(s). Chain of Command is Chain of Command. If the evidence is missing or incomplete you must refuse to return an Indictment or a Guilty verdict. If it’s not legit, you must acquit. Footage goes both ways. If a person claims brutality / false arrest and the evidence is complete showing no harm or foul play, then the wrongful accuser (all wrongful accusers’ that is) should be charged with perjury and not qualified for probation.

Anonymous said...

I want a pair of Omnioculars!