New body camera docking stations a 'huge benefit'

Originally posted on The Daily Republic, 12/2/15, by Jake Shama

It's not Christmas yet, but Mitchell police are already enjoying a gift to the department: two body camera docking stations.

"It's been a huge benefit," said Mitchell Assistant Police Chief Michael Koster.

In October, the Palace City Lions Club donated $7,000 to Mitchell Public Safety. A $4,650 chunk of that donation was designated to the Mitchell Police Division, which used the funds to purchase the two body camera docks and to pay for a cloud-based storage system through the end of 2015.

The docking stations, made by Taser International, each hold six body cameras. Koster said the department plans on purchasing two more docking stations, which cost $1,495 each, in 2016, allowing a total of 24 cameras to be charged at once.

There are 27 sworn officers including administrative officials, Koster said. About 18 are patrol officers, and the Police Division employs a few reserve officers as well. When the new stations arrive, the department will have space to charge a couple of spare cameras as well as those used by full-time and reserve officers.

In addition to charging, the docking stations automatically upload the video files from the cameras into a cloud-based storage system. The on-camera memory is then cleared.

The cloud-based storage provides its own benefits. Koster said the service makes locating videos less cumbersome, and upload speeds are faster. The department intends to continue using this service through 2016.

The donation followed a Sept. 4 incident in which a Mitchell police officer shot and killed a Mitchell man following a struggle over a gun, but the officer's body camera failed to record the incident. Officials said the camera's memory was full. The shooting was eventually deemed justified because the man who was shot threatened the life of an officer, according to a report by the South Dakota Attorney General's Office.

Less than two months after the incident, the Palace City Lions Club offered its donation, and the stations were operational about two weeks later, Koster said.

The new stations are also saving the officers time. Before the stations' arrival, officers had to upload the files manually via a USB cable. After that, the data had to be removed from the camera, and each had to be plugged into a wall charger.

"It's just more automation in that system. It's less steps for the officer to do," Koster said. "The data management portion of it is far superior to what we were doing before."

The Police Division purchased about 20 body cameras using a $9,980 grant from the state of South Dakota in August. The money came from the state's Drug Control Fund, which takes seized monies from drug arrests and makes it available to law enforcement agencies to purchase equipment to combat drug use.

Upgrades

Aside from the coming arrival of two more docking stations, the Police Division has plans to upgrade other pieces of technology in its fleet.

The department owns six vehicles. Four are used by patrol officers, one is set aside for the canine officer, and one is used by the school resource officer.

Inside each vehicle is a laptop computer that allows officers to search for a person's criminal background, run and type reports and stay in their vehicles for longer periods.

However, two of the computers are in need of an upgrade, and Koster said two Panasonic Toughbooks will be ordered in 2016.

"As far as the new computers, we're just updating systems that we've had for several years. It's just basically a system upgrade," Koster said.

Koster said the laptops to be replaced are several years old and have compatibility issues with some programs, and replacing them is a part of the normal practice for the department.

The computers sustain heavy use each day, being used for every 10-hour shift.

"It's really no different than people updating their home computer systems," Koster said. "At a certain point, they need to be replaced and upgraded."

Koster said the computers were covered in the 2016 budget. Andrew Schneider, IT specialist for the city of Mitchell, said the Panasonic Toughbook 53 Elite, the model used in police vehicles, will cost $2,115.27, a reduced price thanks to the city's involvement with the National Joint Powers Alliance, which leverages purchasing contracts for police and government members.

Earlier this year, the Police Division purchased a 2016 Ford Interceptor. After the purchase, the vehicle needed to have a computer and wireless internet provider installed.

Instead of installing the same wireless internet device that is used in the other vehicles, however, the department is testing new technology.

A Cradlepoint router, which costs $899, was installed in the vehicle and turns it into an encrypted, mobile Wi-Fi hotspot.

Other vehicles were outfitted with a cellular card powered by Verizon that plugged directly into computers through a USB port. Officers noted having issues with speed and connectivity with the cellular cards. So far, the Cradlepoint device seems to have resolved those problems.

"It's a faster connection," Koster said.

Although it is an improvement, Koster said there were no plans to upgrade the cards in the other vehicles because there is not "a need for others at this point."

See original article here.