By Laurence Smith, Executive at Graphic Image Technologies

Incidents of police officers being killed in the line of duty are becoming increasingly common. Reports from earlier in the year where five policemen were killed during an attack on a police station in the Eastern Cape were a bleak reminder that even the police are targets for criminals.

Conversely, there are regular reports of police brutality and corruption in the line of duty that is difficult to corroborate without hard evidence. South Africa could benefit significantly from technology that can assist with these challenges.

It was thought that body-worn cameras would do the trick, helping to keep tabs on how our police officers conducted themselves as they carried out their duties, but the technology was, until now, insufficient. Thanks to recent developments, technology has matured beyond the simple idea of a body-worn camera (recording video footage onto an SD card) to a full-scale eyes-on-the-ground smart mobile sensor platform.

Technology such as this could completely change the way people are able to track and record what is happening on the ground, whether it be a local security company, a police task force or emergency response team.

Solid in theory, deficient in the field

It was thought that making body-worn cameras a requirement for police officers and public servants would stamp out the opportunity for crime and corruption. After all, which police officer would attempt to solicit a bribe, knowing that their conduct was being recorded? While the purpose of body-worn cameras was solid, limitations soon became apparent. The body-worn camera was exactly what it said, no more and no less:  essentially a camera worn on a person’s chest that recorded video onto an SD card.

It was only possible to receive and view that footage once the individual checked back in at the control room and handed over their SD card to be plugged into a PC and the footage downloaded, which meant that footage was always after the fact. Such cameras were easy to tamper with, and their view easily obscured by hands or objects held close to the chest. It was also easy to remove the SD card and damage it, destroying any footage of any wrongdoings.

The scope for error is greater, when a control room operator is managing upwards of 20 officers each with an SD card. In short, the body-worn camera’s downfall was its lack of real-time control and susceptibility to tampering.

Today’s technology is much smarter humans

The ability to put eyes on the ground has gone from a standalone package (the body-worn camera with its limitations) and evolved into a complete end-to-end video recording and management system, all wrapped up as a ‘smart mobile sensor platform’. With a cloud-based platform it is now possible to make use of HD video along with location and motion information in a lightweight compact solution made up of a sensory device (the camera together with a panic button) and a Power, Comms and Storage (PCS) component.

The sensory device is compact enough to be attached to glasses, collars, shirts or even vehicles, making it unobtrusive and the PCS component has live streaming over 4G LTE using a built-in GSM sim card to support live transmission at D1 resolution.  This provides good quality live video in the control room while recording high quality HD for automatic upload to the Video Management System (VMS) when the unit is docked for recharging.

In addition to real-time viewing and recording of video footage, these units contain a panic button which the wearer can trigger and provides the control room with complete visuals and audio of the scene, as it unfolds in real time. This makes it possible for the control room to dispatch the appropriate resources in response to any incident that may occur. Because each unit is allocated to an individual using the allocation pad on the VMS, operators in the control room can identify exactly who is doing what.

Cleaning up corruption

Smart mobile sensor platform technology will improve transparency and accountability wherever it is applied and responding officers and control room operators alike will be quick to see the value of the ability to have live footage on the scene while its happening.

Furthermore, the fact that footage is encrypted and is being transmitted live back to the control room and is automatically uploaded to the VMS when the device is docked, removes the element of human tampering, making it more reliable and forcing public servants to self-correct their behaviour. From an evidentiary perspective, the ability to have high-quality video at HD resolution with full management, makes it easy to maintain the evidentiary chain, which has a positive benefit for admissibility of evidence in the prosecution of criminal behaviour.

Complicated problems like corruption and public servants stepping outside the realm of their duties, can no longer be ignored. Thankfully, there’s a simple solution to the problem of corruption: transparency. That’s exactly what smart mobile sensor platform technology promises and it’s exactly what it provides: the means to finally stamp out corruption and ensure that public servants act in the best interests of the public they’re meant to serve and protect.

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