Police video goes digital
ICOP units being used in 4 vehicles
Billy Blackwell II is on his own as he patrols the streets. The Lansing police sergeant has no partner, and is often one of only a handful of officers on the road during his shift.
But he does have a second set of high-tech eyes and ears closely monitoring the action at all times.
Thanks to a new in-car video system, Blackwell's cruiser is one of four in the department equipped with two cameras and a wireless microphone that capture the action as it happens - and before it unfolds.
The department spent $27,450 on the new system, costs that include an ICOP unit for four vehicles, plus all the accompanying computer hardware and software. Lansing Police Chief Steve Wayman said he planned to include the new video system in the department's other eight vehicles over the next few years.
The department purchased the system from Lenexa-based ICOP Digital, Inc. and installed the first two in April and the other two in July.
"It's a world of difference. There's so much more you can do," Blackwell said when comparing the ICOP to the previous VHS system the department used.
The ICOP system automatically takes images whenever an officer activates the flashing lights atop the vehicle or chooses to manually record the action. And even if an officer spots an infraction and then turns on the lights activating the camera, ICOP has a feature that captures and stores images for the minute and a half before the system is activated.
"Knowing you can get the 90 seconds before (is great), whereas before, it didn't start (capturing) until you hit record. It gives me peace of mind," Blackwell said. "The more documentation you have, the better off you are."
The ICOP system has three primary functions - officer safety, criminal prosecution and researching complaints, according to Blackwell.
"We can review what was said, how things happened. We can also respond to a complaint (about an officer) and base our review on the actual video and audio," Blackwell said.
Each ICOP holds about 17 hours of video. Officers then transfer that video onto a computer system that holds a massive five terrabytes of information - a process that provides much more storage and is more user-friendly than VHS.
It's also easier to use in court, Blackwell said. With VHS tapes, interested parties would have to leave the courtroom, go to a separate area and review the tape. Now, officers burn the information to a disc and play it in the courtroom through an overhead projector, Blackwell said.
The ICOP system also provides a more comprehensive look at a crime scene. An officer is able to zoom in on a license plate and switch to a second camera trained on the back seat of the patrol car. It even comes with a wireless transmitter that captures audio of the scene and allows an officer to begin recording from outside the vehicle.
The overall peace of mind that comes from the new system can't be replaced, Blackwell said.
"It's like having a partner when you don't really have one," he said.