>Rick May
>Advances in Public Safety Technology
>Rick May is the District Sales Manager for Kustom Signals, Inc. a Kansas
>based manufacturer of public safety equipment, such as radar guns and
>trailers, and video surveillance systems. Kustom Signals recently won a
>bid to supply the Palo Alto police department with the latest in digital
>audio/video surveillance systems, for use in patrol cars.
>Rick will describe and demonstrate the technology targeted for Palo Alto's
>patrol cars and discuss some of the policy issues surrounding the
>deployment of the technology being debated, including the control of
>when the surveillance is turned on.

Rick began his talk by explaining that Kustom Signals has been making public safety equipment for more than 20 years. The system that his company sold to Palo Alto includes video and audio recording equipment for patrol cars. They also sell RADAR and LADAR equipment to catch speeders, but that is not the new technology he was here to talk about.

The system is wired to automatically go on when a cop turns on the christmas lights they use to pull people over. There are two cameras, one that looks out the windshield, and one that covers the back seat. The cop carries a microphone, and there is another monitoring inside the car. The information is recorded digitally, and stored on a hard disk to be uploaded at the end of the shift.

Police Departments buy these systems for a number of reasons. One reason is that having a record of what happens goes a long way towards preventing frivolous lawsuits. He gave us an example of a woman who had been touched on the shoulder by a cop whose lawyer had walked out when he saw the tape of what had happened. In a "he said/she said" situation the case might have been expensive for the police. Another is to have a witness if something bad happens.

The review that Palo Alto put Kustom Signals through included two days of thorough hands on evaluation by the whole City Government, which was preceded by a qualification process that took a year and a half. Rick May is proud that his company won the bid at that point, and was pleasantly surprised to find out afterwards there are about two dozen other Cities that almost automatically follow Palo Alto's lead.

During Q&A a number of interesting points came up:

California keeps the records of every police action for three years. Most other States just keep most stuff for one year at the most.

If you speed in Washington State, you will get a ticket. Oregon, on the other hand, seems to be almost code enforcement free.

If cops have to respond to a call outside the range of the cameras, they are trained to tell the microphone what they are doing. For example, he would say "I'm walking up the stairs at 123 Redwood St., and I see a guy with a baseball bat" if that was what he saw in responding to a domestic violence call. That way at least an audio record of what happened is made.

A Kustom Signals system costs the Police Department somewhere between $3500 and $7200 in most cases. Usually they need Federal Grant money to pay for that kind of thing, even though a system can pay for itself by preventing one lawsuit.

Except for some sub assemblies that they buy (Embedded Windows PC board, hard disk, and camera) their machine is made in Kansas.

Rick showed us the system in his plainclothes patrol car. It consisted of a nicely molded plastic bump over the rear view mirror, a cartridge hard disk near the gearshift, a cereal box size electronics thing, and a wireless microphone somewhere between the size of a pack of gum and a pack of cigarettes for the cop to carry.

Tian Harter