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'Occupy' protests send police shopping for wearable cop cams

Law enforcement warms up to body-worn video cameras in the field, but some are hesitant to trust the cloud to store footage.

By , Network World
June 18, 2012 07:49 AM ET

Network World - In his lengthy career with the Oakland Police Department, Steve Lovell encountered plenty of cases where in-field video footage could have come in handy.

"I've worked a lot of protests in my 20-year career, and all too often, the protesters were videotaping us but we weren't videotaping them," Lovell, now managing director for body-worn video provider Vievu, says. "They were throwing rocks at us and we didn't do anything to pick up the evidence or record that the evidence happened. We were just saying that it was happening."

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SLIDESHOW: High-tech police tools

Now, with protests from the Occupy Wall Street movement causing ripple effects across the country, Vievu is seeing a spike in requests for its wearable video cameras, Lovell says.

The Seattle-based company's devices and the accompanying software, Veripatrol, are currently deployed in 2,000 agencies in eight different countries. The cameras are developed according to standards set by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), and are designed to capture activity within a 71-degree field of vision. The cameras, which clip onto the shirt, are designed to be so unobtrusive that officers don't even know they're wearing them.

The three-inch by two-inch by 0.75-inch camera weighs about 3.5 ounces, making it roughly twice the size and weight of an iPod Nano. With 4GB of storage, Vievu estimates that the cameras can capture up to four hours of video, which is compressed in the MPEG-4 file format and made compatible for Windows versions XP through 7.

Cop-cams adopted by NASA security

Security police at NASA's Kennedy Space Center have been wearing Vievu's cameras for about a year and a half, says Larry Kerley, support operations commander for security contractor Chenega Security and Support Solutions at the center. The cameras have proven valuable enough to warrant the purchase of additional devices, Kerley says, which will bring the total to 21 in use at the station.

Kerley says the cameras have been especially helpful in resolving complaints against his officers. The only problem he's encountered with the cameras involves how the officers wear them.

"The main problem is I have to educate them on which way to put the camera on because I get tired of turning my monitor upside down when they put it on upside down," Kerley says.

The power of video to settle misconduct disputes or provide convincing evidence in important cases has prompted a call for wider use of the technology. A 2011 study on video evidence conducted by the University of Central Florida concluded that "body-worn cameras should be standard equipment for all officers in units that have high instances of citizen contact and self-initiated calls."

Subhead: Hard sell

However, convincing police agencies to use body-worn cameras hasn't always been easy, Lovell says. Five years ago, when the company was founded, Lovell says Vievu had to convince skeptics who weren't nearly as familiar with cellphone video cameras as they are today.

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