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Arbitrator Records the Facts

Panasonic System Saves Officers' Time and State's Money

Recording on to solid-state Panasonic P2 cards, the Toughbook Arbitrator is capturing key evidence on the highways and making storage and retrieval a snap. North Dakota has plenty of straight, open highways, with a typical speed limit on the interstates of 75 mph.

Like many law enforcement agencies, the North Dakota Highway Patrol is armed with Panasonic Toughbook computers, and now has the company’s Arbitrator camera system. It not only records traffic stops—capturing key evidence—but the system’s solid-state Panasonic P2 cards are making those audio-video clips easy to log and find, saving the state plenty of time and money since installation on about 140 patrol card was completed last fall.

The Arbitrator Digital Video system includes the dashboard cam, with lowlight imaging, a nearly 70-degree wideangle lens and wireless file transmission capability—all in a dust- and vibrationresistant casing ready to connect to the Toughbook. It continuously records 30 seconds of action in its solid-state buffer. That means if something happens right in front of the patrol car, it’s recorded without any officer intervention.

It also turns on when any of a number of triggers occur—the activation of the car’s lights and siren, or when the vehicle reaches a certain speed or if the officer hits the brakes hard. When these things happen, a new file is created on the P2 card, said Capt. David Kleppe of the NDHP.

When interacting with the driver, the officer uses a lapel mic connected to a belt back that wirelessly sends the audio of the conversation back to the Arbitrator.

Arbitrator gives troopers a new arsenal of technical tools. The North Dakotans record at the device’s medium rate, 1 Mbps at 30 fps. That allows 32 hours of record time in a single 16 GB card. It also has rate options of 512 kbps and 2 Mbps.

Two-thirds of the officers work out of one or another of the state’s eight regional offices. In each are multiterabyte servers connected to a state network.

Officers with full cards unload the data (into a device Kleppe calls a “toaster”), and the local servers upload it all to the state network every 24 hours, creating a backup. Authorized users can then find any clip from around the state. It’s all encrypted as well.

Under normal circumstances, when no criminal offense beyond a traffic ticket results, the data is erased after 45 days. People generally have two weeks to tell the state they’re going to challenge a ticket, so if they make that move, the police will save the data longer (and also provide an unofficial copy on DVD for the defendants if required).

But maybe best of all, all the data is tagged with metadata for easy access. The data on the card includes not just audio and video but also the location and speed of the patrol car and more. Officers wanting to check specific cases can search by officer, data, location or other ways. For the state, the hardware investment—all state funds, in this case—is paying back in savings from the filing and searching costs associated with the old, analog tape system the state previously used.

“The features that we are able to take advantage of with the digital technology have been very helpful,” said Kleppe.

And, it’s saving the state untold time and money in court. “Our troopers are not challenged by a defendant very often but when they are, the video documentation often reduces the need to bring the matter before the courts,” he said.