Palo Alto police embrace new recording technology

Palo Alto police embrace new recording technology

If you see a Palo Alto police cruiser passing by, the odds are that the cruiser can also see you, even if the officers inside are gazing in the opposite direction.

The Palo Alto Police Department has recently installed new video systems on dozens of cruisers, replacing the recording systems that were first installed on police vehicles in 2006. In addition to the usual enhancements one can expect with video upgrades -- high-definition video and high-fidelity audio -- the new recording systems have an additional feature: the ability to record and review what happened before an incident even occurs.

Unlike the previously used Mobile In-Car Video System, which included two cameras on the cruiser, the new systems include five. This means new cameras on the cruisers' sides and rearview mirrors, according a report from the police department.

"We've already had a few cases where actions of our officers that would not have been captured on the old system were completely captured on the new one, which allowed us to have a clear view of what went on," said Lt. Zach Perron, the department's public information manager. "That's exactly what we want to have."

The improvement in audio quality is also significant, he said. Audio recordings in the new systems have far more range and can work "through objects," Perron said.

"If you're around the corner of a building and that's where the arrest occurs, there's still a very good chance that the audio will not only be captured but be clearly discernible," he said.

Another difference is that these cameras are, in a sense, always on.

Footage on the new video systems gets recorded in two different ways. Any incident that requires the use of police lights and sirens automatically triggers the cameras and transfers the recorded data to a removable flash drive. All the other footage gets automatically picked up and basically remains dormant on the vehicle's hard drive, subject to later review, according to the website of WatchGuard, a network security company that makes the new systems. The company, which refers to the feature as "record after the fact," allows the department to rewind footage over a 40-hour buffer period.

"We're able to go back and snip out a video segment that has been recorded in the prior 40 hours and create a file based on that," Perron said.

Perron noted, however, that this "buffer" period does not include audio recordings.

This feature has already come in useful in at least one case, he said. Officers were able to use footage from a passing patrol car to verify that a suspect was near a business where a crime had occurred, Perron said. Before the video review, the suspect had claimed he was in a different location.

The way the footage is transferred and stored is also completely new. Before, the department had to plug data cables into cruisers to get the data into the department computers. Now, the footage is transferred wirelessly and automatically to a secure server, with officers having no ability to delete or edit it.

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