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Back to Archives | Back to September 2008 Contents 

Technology Talk

By Ian Hamilton, Project Coordinator, Cutting Edge of Technology Project, IACP, Alexandria, Virginia

Digital In-Car Video System Minimum Performance Specifications

n-car video recording has emerged as a fundamental instrument for the law enforcement community to protect its officers as well as the community at large; these systems are used increasingly in police vehicles to the point that they have now become almost standard equipment. Digital in-car video systems are quickly being adopted in favor of analog recorders, eliminating cumbersome VHS tape storage requirements, improving video and audio quality, and assisting in the prosecution of suspects in court. However, such a transition presents new challenges and considerations for law enforcement agencies.


The IACP Cutting Edge of Technology Project, through a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Office of Science and Technology, has been working to develop a comprehensive set of digital in-car video system minimum performance specifications, together with a testing and certification program for operation consistent with the evidentiary use of recorded sounds and images. The objective of this initiative has been twofold: to educate law enforcement practitioners on digital in-car video system requirements and implementation and to guide manufacturers on the minimum performance requirements of their systems necessary for meeting the needs of their law enforcement customers. To facilitate this process, the IACP established a Digital Video Systems (DVS) Advisory Panel in March 2005 that consists of an executive panel with representation from the law enforcement community, private industry, and the scientific community. Six task groups were also formed to address specific components of the specifications: measurement quality, data security, operational measurement, officer safety, interoperability, and testing and certification.

To better identify the minimum specification needs of the law enforcement community, the DVS Advisory Panel was charged with identifying a “theater of operations” defined by the field of view of the in-car camera during a routine traffic stop; determining the relative sizes of critical objects (such as license plates and firearms) within the field of view; and examining operating conditions (such as weather and the level of light) and their effects on the ability of a system to resolve critical object parameters. The Operational Measurement Task Group conducted five field tests at various geographic locales using multiple police vehicles between 2005 and 2007, resulting in the establishment of operational parameters used as the basis for the digital in-car video system specifications.

Advisory Panel

In June 2008, the IACP hosted a DVS Advisory Panel meeting to review and approve revisions made to Version 12.5 of the specifications draft document. The result was Draft Version 13, completed shortly thereafter and disseminated to Advisory Panel participants in July 2008 for final review. Pending Advisory Panel approval, Version 13 is scheduled to be presented to the IACP Communications and Technology Committee for final approval, then formally adopted, announced, and made available at the 115th Annual IACP Conference in San Diego, California, in November. Following the release of the DVS minimum performance specifications document, the IACP will continue to refine testing measures and work toward building capacity to certify digital in-car video systems in a laboratory setting. A fully operational testing capability is expected to be in place within 18 months of the announced release of the specifications; a list of those systems that meet the specifications and that are eligible for purchase using federal grant funds will be developed at the same time.

Specifications Document

Key features of the specifications document include sections on officer/occupant safety, system specifications, security, digital asset recording, and interoperability. Appendix A is unique in that it is a compendium of policies and best practices covering such diverse topics as warranties, storage solutions, chain of custody, and electronic digital asset transfer. Probably the most detailed area of the specifications document is section 6, “Digital Asset Recording.” This section, the basis for a future testing program, includes objective measures for use in the certification process of digital video systems. These measures were developed after a series of practical field exercises replicating actual traffic stops and situations encountered by law enforcement officers in a variety of conditions and climates. The panel has even specified optimum requirements for microphones, a major component of the system that can be a lifeline for officers during a traffic stop or other incidents where a video recording system has been activated.

Next Steps

The panel also plans to disseminate a companion guide for law enforcement practitioners that will summarize the minimum performance specifications necessary for a digital in-car video system and that will present this information in a format suitable for use in developing a request for proposals. In addition, recognizing that this process is anything but static, the panel will continue to monitor video technology enhancements and update specifications when appropriate. With this document, the DVS Advisory Panel believes that the bar has been set within reach of all manufacturers and applauds the participants who have given so much of their time and attention to making this document possible.

For additional information about the IACP Digital Video Systems Minimum Performance Specifications project, readers can contact the author at 1-800-THE-IACP, extension 848, or via e-mail at ■



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXV, no. 9, September 2008. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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