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Digital Systems End Tape Headaches, Frivolous Complaints

For police departments, in-car video recording has long been better proposed than executed.

The DS-2 can be connected to laptops like the Panasonic Toughbook
For police departments, in-car video recording has long been better proposed than executed. The problems were legion: In-car cameras were typically low-resolution, audio was often inadequate and the video was recorded on VHS tapes that required ongoing replacement and repair.

by James Careless

Today, officers using systems like the Panasonic Arbitrator (see the December 2009 story at and the DP-2 DigitalPatroller in-car video system (from Digital Safety Technologies of Morrisville, N.C.) provide officers with multi-camera coverage-with good resolution, automatic and remote activation, excellent audio capture and reliable, tamperproof file transfer to a digital video recorder.

“The DP-2 is a solid, dependable system,” says Lawrence Cullipher, IT manager with the Raleigh (N.C.) Police Department. “We have it in over 300 of our patrol cars, and it is a substantial improvement over VCR-based systems.”

To date, over 9,000 DigitalPatroller DVR-based systems have been sold to public safety agencies across the country.

The DP-2 is built around a trunk-mounted DVR is available in single or double conventional hard drive versions, or Solid State hard drives that can stand extreme road vibration.

When in standby mode, the DP-2 system is constantly capturing and buffering 30 seconds of video. So once triggered, the 30 seconds that just occurred are automatically transferred from the buffer into the disk drive. The DP-2 can be triggered by an officer, and automatically when the siren is turned on or when the patrol car exceeds a preset speed limit.

Two or more cameras can be connected to the DP-2’s DVR. The main camera is designed to look ahead through the front windshield; other cams can be added to record views from back and side windows.

The main camera’s specs are impressive: 470,000 pixels/480 lines of video resolution; a 22x optical/220x digital zoom that can be controlled by the DP-2’s dash-mounted display unit; and built-in heaters than allow the camera to operate in temperatures ranging from -4 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit.

The smaller “Passenger Camera” keeps an eye on what is happening in the back seat. It has a builtin IR illumination array (six LEDs) for capturing video in total darkness, and delivers 420 lines of color resolution. In all, the DP-2 PVR can simultaneously record up to four video and two audio feeds.

The DP-2 offers both wired and wireless microphones. The wireless units are designed to be worn by officers, and can remotely trigger to DP-2’s recording system to capture conversations and incidents. They operate in the 2.4 GHz band, have a 1,500-foot line-of-sight range, and can be encoded for secure transmission.

The DP-2’s display unit is ruggedized and can be mounted on the dash (or any other location). It has a 4.5-inch color display and allows the user to digitally capture and check license plates by pushing a single button. Its functions can be assumed by an in-car laptop, if the department has already equipped its cars with them.


The Charlottesville (Va.) Police Department has been using in-car camera systems for eight years. The department started with six VHS units, then added another 12, then upgraded to recording on DVD-RAM disks. Then it moved up to the DP-2 system, which is now in 46 of its patrol cars.

Inside the patrol car CPD Det. Blaine Cosgro particularly likes the DP-2’s wired/wireless file transfer ability. “Moving tapes from the cars to the officer in charge took time, and specific footage was hard to find when you needed it,” he said. “In contrast, the DP-2’s DVR transfers files to our server either by Ethernet cable-the officers just drive up to a designated location and literally ‘plug in’ to our network-or by wireless at WiFi hotspots. Since the drive holds up to 24 hours of audio/video, many officers can get by transferring their files once a week. As soon as the server receives the files, it automatically clears the car’s DVR.”

To aid video searches, the officers categorize the videos by the type of incidents they have captured, such as “DWI” or “Moving Violation.” The video can be seen and labeled in the car, but that’s it: It simply cannot be altered in any way. Add the recorder’s unique identity, time and date stamp, and the fact that the unit also records GPS locations, and you have a completely cross-referenced record of what happened.

Back at headquarters, CPD has 20TB of server storage to hold the video. It can only be viewed on one authorized DPViewStation, where additional data can be added, and clips transferred to other sources.

Having the DP-2 has made a difference to life at the CPD. For one thing, “DWI convictions and guilty pleas have gone way up,” Cosgro says. “The quality of the video is awesome, and it clearly shows when someone has failed a sobriety test.”

The Raleigh (N.C.) Police Department has a larger DP-2 deployment: 300-plus cars, eight upload locations and the deployment of DPViewStation software on 40-50 senior officers’ desktops. The RPD has seen similar improvements in its DWI conviction rate, while spurious citizen complaints against its officers have dropped. “Most of the time, the video shows that the incident occurred exactly as the officer said it did,” says RPD’s Lawrence Cullipher. “This has made life easier for our people and for Internal Affairs. It’s just better for morale overall.”


Police in-car video is a staple of TV newscasts. However, the poor quality of VHS footage has often much to be desired, sometimes raising more questions than it answers.

In contrast, the DP-2’s video is SD broadcast resolution. It is the kind of quality that today’s HD-using public expects.

MORE INFO DIGITAL SAFETY TECHNOLOGIES Digital Safety Technologies posts some examples on its Website. For instance, one head-on collision between a sheriff’s cruiser and a PT Cruiser that crossed the center line is so visually detailed, that it is unnerving to watch. Equally as clear is a roadside shooting of a suspect who attacked an officer off-camera. The DP- 2 captures the start of the vicious attack, in which the suspect injures the officer before the shot is fired. As the TV anchorwoman says on the report, “Dashcam video appears to justify that shooting.”

One of the most impressive DP-2 clips was broadcast nationally on NBC’s Today Show. It shows a woman who has parked her car at night on a dark train crossing, only to be taken off the scene by the officer seconds before a train comes by and demolishes her car. Despite the car’s headlights being the sole source of light, the image quality is clear and detailed—exactly the kind of footage that can show precisely what happened.