Features: July 31st, 2009

Bureaucracy and form filling are characteristics of public services. Police forces are no exception and beat officers have been spending almost half their time at the police station. The problem is being tackled vigorously and one approach is to introduce helmet cameras which record incidents and remove the need for a detailed report.

Most of us feel an air of safety when we see a bobby on the beat but it is all too rare these days with paperwork and reporting taking up valuable hours, keeping our Police force off the streets. Much of the paperwork relates to extremely detailed reports of incidents that have taken place whilst on duty. Anything that can reduce this time is welcomed by both the Police and the public. One way is with the use of helmet cameras.

Helmet cameras were first trialed by Devon and Cornwall Police using funding from the Home Office. Having proved the concept, the Home Office made £3m funding available in July 07 to launch the scheme nationally.

Sussex Police took up the offer of funding and have been at the forefront of realising the benefits of filmed Police work, trialing 80 cameras across four districts.

Sergeant Russ Philips of Sussex Police very quickly realised how powerful a device the cameras were. “At first, our Officers were reluctant to use them – thinking it was Big Brother watching them and their Police work but when they saw the power of the filmed footage they realised how beneficial it can be in gathering evidence.”

At the start of each shift the officer records their name on film and then turns the camera on every time they encounter an incident. They don’t record everything, but use the camera as they would their pocket notebook.

When the Officer gets back to the station at the end of the shift, instead of writing up pages and pages of notes, they simply refer to the file number of the camera footage and only minimal notes are required.

Footage taken from a helmet camera can be used in court as evidence. It is far more powerful than a written statement and isn’t open to interpretation like a written statement can be. The magistrate is left in no doubt about what happened and can convict accordingly.

The public have the right to view the footage so it is kept for 31 days after which time it is destroyed, the view being that if anyone wants to see the footage of themselves they will come in within a month of being recorded. If, however, footage is required for evidence then it can be kept for 7 years and maybe longer in certain cases.

Fast and secure file storage

The helmet cameras record footage to SD cards. When they were first introduced, the footage from the SD cards had to be burned to DVD because it could not be stored on any PC or server as it ran the risk of being tampered with, which would compromise its integrity. This was time consuming and there were many stages in the process where errors could creep in. It also proved costly as the DVDs would be thrown away after 31 days.

Sergeant Phillips realised there must be a better way of storing and viewing the video data and started looking into various options.

He discovered the Epson P-5000 Photo Viewer – a solution usually suited to professional photographers out in the field. “The speed really is impressive compared to downloading a DVD”, says Phillips. “And I’ve never had to look at the instruction booklet – it really is that easy to use and with 80GB of memory there are no concerns about it running out of space.”

It also has bit for bit copy so the files are not compressed or altered, which is essential for giving a transparent evidence trail.

Sergeant Phillips now has a procedure in place whereby each camera’s SD card is numbered and logged out at the start of each shift. At the end of their shifts, Police Officers drop their SD cards into a ‘dirty card box’.

The Police Sergeants then transfer the data from the cards to the Photoviewer. The file is automatically date stamped and given a unique reference number – for example 31.1.09 – 1. This automatic referencing means there is no need to create file names and no errors can creep in.

The card is then wiped clean, ready for use again so there is no opportunity to edit or change the footage. The Photo Viewer is password protected so it can’t accidentally fall into the wrong hands and files be downloaded.

Instant Replay

Where the P-5000 really comes into its own is with the replay of the files.

Members of the public that have been arrested and make complaints about the way they have been treated for example can request to see the film footage whilst being held at the Police Station. Phillips says of this capability, “The power of the footage being shown to the public after they have made complaints is quite amazing. Where footage is available, any complaints we’ve had against our officers have always been dropped. It is usually a humbling experience for people to see on video how they have behaved in the heat of the moment.”

The ability to show footage on the same day as it was taken is a huge leap forward for the Police force. Previously it would take weeks for footage to be sent to HQ and returned in a viewable format. Now they simply pass the handheld device over and play the footage. The 4 inch Photo Fine Ultra Colour LCD panel makes viewing extremely clear and easy to view.

The P-5000 is used to burn the files back to DVD to go to court as a means of showing evidence, meaning that Police Officers don’t even have to attend. The Video-print function on the P-5000 means frames can be paused and printed allowing a series of thumbnails to be printed out, allowing exact movements to be examined in detail.

Sussex Police force now has 18 Epson P-5000 Photo Viewers all helping to keep paperwork to a minimum, saving time and effort for the Police force and most importantly freeing up time for keeping the public safe and reducing crime on our streets.