Council approves new camera system

The Atlanta City Council approved last Monday the purchase of an in-car and body-worn camera system for the Atlanta Police Department.

Dave Childress with WatchGuard Video presented the council with a quote that includes 15 in-car cameras, 20 body-worn cameras and related equipment for $149,650 with an annual fee of $17,325 after the first year. In-car cameras have a five-year warranty, body-worn cameras have a three-year warranty.

WatchGuard Video is a Motorola company and major provider of mobile video solutions for approximately one-third of all law enforcement agencies in the United States and Canada and has sold 4200 similar units to the Houston Police Department—their largest customer in Texas. The Department of Public Safety is the company’s second-largest customer in Texas.

City manager David Cockrell told the council that he and the police department had researched the equipment and ultimately chose the least expensive of the providers that were being considered.

“I read a lot of background on a study that the Houston Police Department had done in order to vet this particular product that the police are recommending”, Cockrell said, “They did a study of a whole bunch of equipment and they did the kind of study for value, reliability, that we could never do.”

Cockrell said that the body cams currently being used are unreliable.

“There is not much to them. They are easily flopped off, torn off and they are not reliable. We’ve had a lot of times where we want the video and can’t get the video because the camera either got turned off or wasn’t turned on.”

The new body cams are part of a fully-automated system designed to sync to a patrol car’s dash camera in real-time. When emergency lights are activated by officers, the car and body camera power on. Data uploads automatically to Cloud storage once the officer returns to the police station, and it is stored at three data centers around the country as a fail-safe measure in case a data center “goes down”.

Another fail-safe measure exclusive to the provider is Record-After-the-Fact (RATF) technology. WatchGuard’s website claims “no more excuses for missing video.”

“If the body camera is powered on, it will record constantly in a passive mode. If the officer fails to activate his body camera before engaging a subject in physical action, the video can still be recovered by inserting the camera in its “cradle” and searching a specific date and time of the incident.”

Childress said, “If somebody complains on an officer, the Chief has the ability within 56 hours of powered-up time to take that camera, drop it in a cradle and review that video. From the car aspect, it can go back about 100 hours.”

The company claims that video cannot be erased nor modified by an officer.

“Everything is forensically enforceable, “Childress said, “In other words, every video frame, there’s 30 frames per second in a video, every frame has immunity hash nine. And so a video will actually know that there are 32 minutes in a video. It says I need to have 2,100 hash marks. If there’s 2,099, there’s one missing and that video gets quarantined because something’s wrong.”

“Every time someone looks at a video, makes a copy of the video, it leaves a footprint.”

Storage is a critical component of the system. Events such as arrests, drug interventions and shootings will automatically upload and store in high definition.

“The police will have the option to run everything HD if they like. They can run everything standard definition if they like. Or they can use what we call the ‘critical rules of evidence’ to let it automatically choose.”

“Somebody in the agency, it’s usually going to be the chief, will have the authority to delete a video after it’s uploaded. Somebody is going to record their garage door for eight hours. If you don’t care, that’s not a problem. Sometimes people don’t want that up there. But even if the chief deletes that video it leaves a footprint that he deleted it. If somebody comes back and says where’s this video, it’s going to say, ‘chief deleted it on this day’, then he’s got to answer why.”

The body camera will hold 128 gigs in high definition which is approximately 55 hours of evidence.

The patrol car’s camera holds approximately 150 hours. In the event of a loss of connectivity to the internet, Childress said, “you’re not out of business.”

Earlier this month the Cass County Criminal District Attorney, Courtney Shelton, issued a letter to law enforcement agencies countywide, “Police departments across the United States are facing a crisis of confidence. Bystanders have recorded on cell phone videos a large number of incidents where officers appear to unjustifiably harm or kill civilians, sparking outrage across the country and making us wonder what additional abuses our cameras have missed.”

“Body-worn and dash cameras have been viewed as one way to address these challenges and improve law enforcement practice more generally”, Shelton wrote, “Dash-mounted and body-worn duty camera systems are extremely beneficial and a “musthave” not only for successful prosecution but also for civil liability mitigation.”

Referencing Shelton’s letter, Cockrell said, “I feel like we have an obligation to our community and to our police to furnish good equipment, reliable equipment, the best that we can afford to where we can say we’re trying to preserve the truth.”

The council also voted to approve a five-year term loan with Government Capital to purchase the system.

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