DPS looking at ‘panoramic’ in-car cameras to better protect troopers

Screengrab from WatchGuard's website showing capabilities of its 360 degree camera product. (WatchGuard.com Photo)
Screengrab from WatchGuard's website showing capabilities of its 360 degree camera product. (WatchGuard.com Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As Austin police zero in on who will supply the department’s first-ever body camera program this year, the Texas Department of Public Safety is buying into another option for its troopers: an in-car camera that offers twice the width of view of current cameras, KXAN has learned.

Texas DPS Director Steve McCraw, Dec 2015 at a DPS Commissioners' meeting
Texas DPS Director Steve McCraw, Dec 2015 at a DPS Commissioners’ meeting

Speaking at a DPS Commissioners’ meeting in December, Steve McCraw, DPS Director said, “The best evidence is always audio and video. [At traffic stops] we keep missing what’s going on, on the sides. Technology is such that we can get a more panoramic view and we want to capture that, whether it was the Sandra Bland situation or other trooper-involved shootings.”

A DPS spokesperson confirms to KXAN the agency’s current vendor WatchGuard is exchanging cameras in all new DPS patrol vehicles for cameras that offer a 120 degree view. Current cameras record a visual range that extends to 60 degrees.

New, March 3rd, 2016:  Purchase orders KXAN obtained through an Open Records request dating back to 2013 show DPS has bought 1,335 cameras from Texas-based WatchGuard. The total purchase amount: $5,859,131.82 which the orders show included a 20-26% volume discount from full price.

The camera packages include not only forward-facing and infrared cabin cameras, but includes a GPS system, a DVR, a 200G hard drive, removable thumb drive, microphones, a camera mount, battery and proprietary storage software. Several Central Texas police agencies also use the WatchGuard in-car systems.

Other options already exist for having multiple cameras in a police vehicle such as another product from WatchGuard whose website boasts contracts with half of the state highway patrols in the U.S. Attention has also been directed to more experimental panoramic cameras like Centr, the subject of a 2014 Kickstarter campaign.

Image: WatchGuard
(WatchGuard Illustration)

“The nature of our job, if someone resists and a felon wrestles with our trooper, [the confrontation] immediately goes off screen and you don’t have a chance to see it,” McCraw told Commissioners. “You’ve got the audio working, but you really need the visual evidence. And from our standpoint, more audio and more video is better. That’s how we protect our troopers out there. And every trooper is accountable for every stop.”

Austin PD Body Camera selection is getting close

Meantime, Austin Police are moving ever closer to implementing a long anticipated body-worn camera program. The agency is one of the last major departments in Texas to bring body cameras onto an officer’s tool belt.

We obtained the list of vendors who responded to the city of Austin’s Request for Proposals that ended in January. The proposal timeline indicates mid-February for a final choice, followed by a short pilot project to iron out any kinks in the hardware or video storage solution. When KXAN checked in with APD for an update, we were told the final decision wouldn’t come until mid-April. Downtown officers are expected to be trained and outfitted with the cameras by July 4.

Only four of 17 body-worn camera vendors who expressed initial interest last fall in bidding for Austin police’s lucrative body camera contract actually submitted bids before the city purchasing department’s Jan. 15 deadline, a KXAN analysis of the bidding process shows.

Bidders in the order they submitted:

  • TASER Int’l – Scottsdale, AZ-based innovator of the popular stun gun of the same name now into the body camera and evidence storage solutions business
  • Utility – purveyor of its ‘body-worn’ camera line out of Atlanta. Clients include Bexar Co. Sheriff’s Office
  • Vievu (Voice Products) – based in Seattle, offering a range of ‘safety and survivability’ products under the brand umbrella of Safariland
  • Digital Ally – Kansas City-based rival of TASER. Currently embroiled in a recent patent lawsuit over technology rights

The other six bidders are new players, a city purchasing record obtained by KXAN shows:

  • Point Blank Enterprises – A Pompano Beach, FL company promoting its IRIS Cam
  • Stuntcams – A Michigan-based company specializing in trail, hunting, helmet and other cameras
  • Hackett Security – sells its Defender Series of body cams, headquartered in St. Louis
  • Cindy Raysin – unknown company or individual
  • Motorola Solutions – Illinois-based, global cell phone and tech giant entered the body cam market late in 2015 with its si500 product
  • Austin Ribbon and Computer – Dallas-based government equipment supplier  For example, ARC contracted with the city of Lubbock in October providing Panasonic ‘Arbitrator’ body cams (Panasonic itself showed only initial interest in APD’s contract and did not submit to Austin’s Request for Proposals)

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