Law Enforcement Body Camera
The Brazos County Sheriff's Office Manages Digital Evidence from Cuffs to Court with Panasonic Wearable Video Cameras
Home to the world-renowned Texas A&M University, Brazos County is a bustling community of more than 200,000 residents located in east-central Texas. The Brazos County Office of the Sheriff is the agency responsible for operating the county jails, as well as investigating crimes, controlling traffic and performing other duties throughout the county's unincorporated areas.
Like other cities and counties across the country, the Brazos County Sheriff's Office faces the challenge of serving a growing and diverse population with limited resources. In recent years, the agency has increasingly relied on mobile video evidence collection systems to serve as a force multiplier. After years of using a cumbersome VHS tape-based, in-car video system, the sheriff's office decided to upgrade patrol cars to a mobile digital video system that provided improved video quality, simplified file transfer and management, and offered better integration with the office's other technology.
As longtime users of Panasonic Toughbook® mobile computers, the Brazos County Office of the Sheriff first turned to Panasonic in 2006 for the Arbitrator™ mobile digital video evidence collection solution that met its needs. Eight years later, the agency not only continues to depend on Panasonic's Arbitrator mobile digital video evidence collection systems and Toughbook laptops, but it has also deployed WV-TW310 wearable camera systems, the SafeServ™ evidence management software suite and a TH-65PB1U 65-inch interactive plasma display for court proceedings. Altogether, it's one of the country's most comprehensive and efficient solutions for gathering and managing digital video evidence.
"We made a huge leap," said Lt. Tom Randall of the Brazos County Office of the Sheriff. "Today, with just about every DWI or every criminal case where we have a video, and it's a high-quality video, the first thing the prosecutor's office does is show it to the defense attorney. And usually that results in a plea agreement — very few of the cases go to trial."
Each of the Brazos County Sheriff's patrol vehicles is equipped with a Toughbook 31 or Toughbook 30 rugged laptop and an Arbitrator mobile digital video evidence collection system, according to Deputy Sheriff Josh Hearen. The video evidence collection systems are also utilized in the county's jail, in areas such as the interview room.
The Arbitrator systems' ability to easily capture and manage high-quality video evidence has greatly increased efficiency throughout the department, Hearen said.
"It's keeping our guys from having to come back in and go to court," added Lt. Randall. "That in itself is a huge savings to us as an agency, to reduce or eliminate overtime and comp time needed to bring guys in to testify in court. While they may get subpoenas, generally they don't end up having to go because the video speaks for itself."
All of Brazos County's digital video evidence is managed using Panasonic's SafeServ evidence management software suite, which provides secure evidence management with a built-in case file management system. The agency-configurable software ingests not only mobile video from the county's Panasonic equipment, but also the agency's crime scene photos, and it will soon be set up to manage interview room videos and 911 call audio recordings. The sheriff's office shares secure access to the files with county prosecutors, which saves significant time previously spent transferring files or transporting them to the courthouse, Hearen said.
"Just in file management, this is probably 10 times quicker," he said."The deputies virtually don't have to do anything but assign a case number to it, and the system does everything else for them."
Over the past year, Brazos County took its mobile video evidence collection to the next level by equipping deputies and other personnel with the Panasonic WV-TW310 wearable video camera systems. Today, the wearable cameras are worn by not only patrol deputies but also courthouse security deputies as well as deputies, in the county's crisis intervention, criminal investigation and special services units.
The cameras' ability to capture clear and accurate — and unbiased — recordings of interactions is a key benefit for deputies, prosecutors and the community alike, said Lt. Randall.
"It's taking an exact recording of what is actually happening at the scene, so nobody can say 'that didn't happen,'" he said. "Prosecutors like the fact that we're giving them another view. And when we would have a complaint on a deputy, then they can actually pull it up. It's helped us out already with a couple of complaints on deputies' actions, where we've been able to show the video to the complaining party and it takes away the basis of their complaint."
Equipped with a wide-angle fish-eye lens providing an approximate 180° horizontal and 140° vertical angular field of view, the Panasonic WV-TW310 wearable video camera systems are purpose-built for first responders. The cameras provide an effective 1.3-megapixel resolution with optional image stabilization and are optimized for both day and night usage. With a secure recording capacity of up to 32 hours and the ability for up to 30 seconds pre-event recording, the wearable cameras capture and store tamper-proof and courtroom-ready audio/video evidence.
Another new piece of technology recently implemented at the Brazos County courthouse is Panasonic's TH-65PB1U 65-inch interactive plasma display. The professional plasma display is equipped on a cart to provide a "larger-than-life screen" for video evidence and presentations, Hearen said. It features a Digital Pen System that recognizes input from up to four pens at once.
"All the prosecutors were glad to see something that was going to be more interactive," he said. "Everybody is stunned by just how it looks."
Other agencies are taking notice of the Brazos County solution, as well, Lt. Randall said. Both the police departments of the county's two cities, Bryan and College Station, eventually left their old systems and moved to Panasonic for a countywide solution. The Brazos County Office of the Sheriff has also spoken with agencies around the country about its solution and has consulted with Panasonic engineers on future product development, as well.
"As a customer, Panasonic seems to be looking out for us and our needs. It tries to stay one step ahead, but when it comes out with something new, it works with our old stuff," Lt. Randall said. "It is always willing to work as a team on any idea we've had or any solution we need. We've never been told that it can't be done."