How Law Enforcement Use-of-Force Cameras Have Evolved
How Law Enforcement Use-of-Force Cameras Have Evolved
Common camcorders have been used as use-of-force cameras (UFC) or raid-cams because of
their low price and their ability to refute false claims from offenders. These factors have made them
a staple for today’s correctional agencies.
Use-of-force cameras have come a long way since their first use in the era of VHS. The evolution
of raid-camera media formats from VHS, to 8mm, and now to new mass media storage formats
has driven down the cost of securing officers while, at the same time, delivering a wider range of
benefits. Agencies seeking to replace failing UFCs, need to be aware of the benefits and even
some pitfalls of these new form factors.
Currently there are number of agencies still using 8mm based camcorders. Technically speaking,
the 8mm format is an excellent format given its low video compression which better maintains the
original video quality. However, the 8mm format is fraught with problems and some matters are
becoming increasingly worse:
1. Aging Technology – 8mm format is quickly being eliminated from the landscape of
available technologies, a quick visit to any discount electronics provider is proof enough.
That being said, available parts for repair and companies willing to service 8mm cameras
are becoming fewer and fewer.
2. Moving Parts – The sensitive moving parts make the 8mm camcorder non-conducive for
the correctional environment. Officer priorities during a search or extraction don’t include
being gentle with their gear. The wear and tear of everyday officer duties coupled with the
moving parts of an 8mm camcorder the life of the unit short lived.
3. Low Record and Battery Run-Time – The available record time of an 8mm tape is 60 to
120 minutes, and is considered very short. When events become prolonged, gathering
video footage becomes near impossible. Beside a short record time, 8mm camcorders also
suffer from very short run-times. The moving parts of the 8mm camcorder quickly consume
battery power, again providing just one to two hours of run time.
4. Size and Weight – No doubt, the size and weight of an 8mm camcorder is far superior to
the old VHS camcorders, however in comparison with what is now available, they are a lead
weight. New, smaller media formats allow manufacturers to design camcorders to fit in the
palm of the hand – some even weigh only four ounces.
5. Recurring Cost – The primary recurring costs associated with 8mm camcorders are the
8mm tapes themselves. 8mm tapes like all metal-particle-tape media can only be used a
maximum of twenty-five times before serious degradation of video quality is experienced. As
the supply of 8mm tapes dwindles, the cost goes up. If the plight of the VHS tape is any
indication, very soon there will likely be just one or two niche manufacturers producing 8mm
tapes, making prices soar.
Camcorders with new media can be broken into three major categories, hard drive based, disc
based, and flash memory based devices. All of these new media formats deliver huge advantages
over tape based camcorders; however some of these newer formats have drawbacks. Before
purchasing, agencies should consider the following:
1Hard Drive (HDD)
Long Record Time – As a rule of thumb, video footage consumes around 1GB of memory
per hour of recording. For example, a camcorder equipped with a 60GB hard drive can
roughly hold up to 60 hours of recording.
Easy and Fast Offload – Once footage is recorded, there is no need to remove media and
undertake lengthy processes to dub to digital forms. Quickly connect to a computer via a
USB cable, and the desired footage can easily be found and extracted.
No Recurring Cost – Aside from normal repairs and maintenance, there is not a recurring
cost. Hard drives can rewrite over previous files thousands of times without video
Moving Parts – Unfortunately, hard drive based camcorders have a moving part…the hard
drive itself. During operation, the hard drive is spinning at high RPMs, and like 8mm units,
any moving parts is a recipe for failure in a corrections environment.
Chain of custody – Chain of custody is often overlooked as an important aspect of
evidence retrieval. Proving the proper chain of custody with hard drive based cameras is
troublesome because there is no physical removable media to hand off. However, in most
cases where there is other supporting evidence, such as eyewitness testimony, this can be
a moot point.
Optical Disc (DVD)
Record Time – Camcorders based on DVD disc media provide over four hours of record
time. Although not as much as hard drive based units, this is still a vast improvement over
Easy and Fast Offload – Once recording is completed and the DVD ejected, the media is
ready to be submitted as evidence.
Chain of Custody – Since the footage is already recorded to a physical object (DVD), and
little or no processing is required, the evidence chain of custody is a synch. The only
possible draw back may be that the evidence on the DVD has already been converted into a
common file type for easy playback, and during the conversion process, digital artifacts to
prove authenticity may have been removed. However as with hard drive based units, if there
is other supporting evidence in the chain of custody this can be a non-issue.
Recurring Cost – In nearly every instance, the DVD’s will be used only before either being
submitted for evidence or discarded.
Aging Media – It is predicted that DVD’s over the next few years will become obsolete. The
reasoning for this is two-fold. First, other media forms, such as Blue-Ray, are providing
better resolution and compression. Second, it is continually easier to transfer large amount
of digital data. More agencies are modernizing facilities with better network infrastructure
and utilizing services with more available bandwidth to incorporate data transfer.
Moving Parts – The major drawback to DVD based camcorders is moving parts. Any
abnormal amount of shock will cause the DVD to skip. During recording a skip could very
easily corrupt the entire DVD rendering all footage useless.
Record Time – Flash memory based camcorders almost always use SD (Secure Digital)
media. SD cards are available with capacities up to 64GB which means you can get up to
64 hours of video evidence.
Easy and Fast Offload – Once recording is completed and the SD card is removed,
evidence is ready to be viewed on any PC. Also, the camcorder can be treated like a HDD
based unit and connected to a computer via a USB cable.
Chain of Custody – Like DVD based units, an SD card is a physical object that can be
placed into evidence. Additionally SD card manufacturers, such as SanDisk, provide
evidence grade SD cards with enhanced features to ensure evidence integrity.
No Moving Parts / Shock Resistance – One of the most important features of flash
memory cameras is their immunity to shock. Using the mobile video market and the
environment in which the equipment operates as a reference point, flash memory video
recorders are always the preference to ensure a long and reliable life. In a corrections
environment where gear safety is low and officer safety is high on the priority list, this benefit
is crucial to ensure the camera is able to deliver evidence throughout engagements and
reduce the amount of camcorders replaced over the years.
Long Battery Life – No moving parts also means that the unit requires less power. In some
cases, the run-time can double those of comparable models using other media.
None – For a corrections agency seeking a new raid camera, hands-down one with flash
memory is the way to go.
The Tactical Alternative
The development of flash memory technology has increased the development and use of video
security technology in covert law enforcement and tactical operations. These devices have become
ultra-small in comparison to camcorders and are packed with features that make them ideal in a
tactical environment such as corrections.
When a corrections agency is ready to select their next raid camera, they should consider a
camera that offers the following features:
Officers' Perspective and Safety – The most important benefits for corrections agencies,
are officer safety and the documentation of activities from the officers’ perspective. Cameras
that can be helmet mounted enable both hands to be free and allow the officer to protect
themselves and others, even while evidence is being gathered. Secondly, head mounted
cameras capture whatever the officer views from their perspective, capturing evidence as
the officer moves about the scene.
Rugged, Waterproof Construction – Ensure that the camera has a durable, rugged metal
construction that can withstand rigorous activities during searches and extractions.
Waterproofing is also useful so that the camera is impervious to fluids and outdoor
Easy Operation – Gloves? No Problem – Make sure that the camera is designed for users
who are wearing gloves, and that camera operation is simple and the controls are easy to
Handheld Use – As an alternative, the camera should be able to be used in a handheld
fashion to match existing department practices.
Long Run-Time – A long run-time of three hours on a single charge should be a
requirement for use of force cameras.
Wide Field of View – Most camcorders offer a field of view of 90° or less, so look for a
camera that delivers at least 135°. Having to worry less about where the camera is
orientated is, again, another feature that keeps officers attention on controlling situations
and keeping everyone involved safe.
If you have any questions, comments, would like further information and/or a demonstration of the
HMCAM2, please feel to contact the Supercircuits law enforcement division.