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Video teleconferencing.

The Future of Law Enforcement Communications

As law enforcement prepares to enter the 21st century, it faces unprecedented emerging technology. While such developments as automated fingerprint identification systems, computer-aided dispatch systems, DNA typing, advanced surveillance capabilities, and computer-enhanced techniques assist today's police officers, the future holds even more promise for advancing technologies.

For example, imaging having the capability to see, hear, and converse with a peer in a police department across the country, or being able to interview a protected witness safely with no travel involved. Indeed, improvements in telecommunications make these and other scenarios a reality. In fact, telecommunications provides police officers with high quality, two-way audio and video teleconferencing, from both near and far distances, at the speed of light and at a fraction of the cost of travel.

Background

Although the means for simultaneously transmitting both audio and video have long existed, the use of high-capacity, digital telephone lines has expanded the applications of two-way teleconferencing, while keeping costs relatively low. This new technology, called signal compression, provides exceptionally high-quality sound and pictures and can easily involve many participants at each site.

Compressed digital video works like this. First, a video camera shoots a scene. Then, special digital signal processing chips convert up to 15 frames per second into millions of individual pixels, or picture elements. Other chips select key pixels, such as the features of the speaker's face and clothing, while ignoring static background and redundant pixels, which do not change. Finally, the compressed image and sound are sent over a telephone line to the receiving videophone, which reassembles the pixels.

When using two-way teleconferencing equipment, a digital telephone line service must send the data. Although several types of digital service are available, the most popular is dial-up, public-switched service, because of its cost-effectiveness and growing availability.

System Features

Two-way videoconferencing systems come with a variety of features. The most basic system consists of a video camera, a monitor, and a keypad. Monitors range in size from 10 to 53 inches. Keypads dial the call, adjust the audio volume, select video sources--such as a camera, slide, or document--and position the camera.

One of the most practical teleconferencing units is completely mobile and compact and can be rolled from room to room like an audio/video cart. This particular system has a single microphone that can pick up anyone speaking in a standard conference-sized room. A built-in filtering system removes distortions, providing high-quality audio.

Perhaps teleconferencing's best feature is its versatility. It allows several participants to move freely within their conference sites and still be seen and heard by everyone. Because participants in one room can control the camera in the other room, they can focus on or even zoom in for a closeup of any individual. In addition, a "smart" window on the monitor allows callers to determine how their image appears to the receiver. Furthermore, the camera can be set to focus on predetermined locations, such as flip charts or white boards, during the conference. Thus, the meeting flows almost as if all the participants were in the same conference room.

Another capability of video teleconferencing is its adaptibility to much of the equipment already in wide use, such as FAX machines, VCRs, computers, and instant video disk cameras. In addition, many teleconferencing systems have encryption accessibility, making them secure for both domestic and international communications.

Applications for Law Enforcement

Compressed digital teleconferencing offers many applications for law enforcement, and some were demonstrated at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia.(1) The demonstration took place in two conference rooms, each equipped with a videoconferencing system, on separate floors. For all practical purposes, these rooms could have been thousands of miles apart.

The first application involved the use of the overhead camera. In one room, a photograph of the skeletal remains of a murder victim was placed on a table below the camera. Meanwhile, in the other room, the monitor screen displayed a crisp, clear picture of the photograph.

Not only can the receiving room pick up a projected photograph for immediate examination, but the picture can also be frozen and stored in the system for future use. A photo video printer can then turn it into a hard copy.

While the video teleconferencing system can transmit the image from a hard copy of a photograph, it can also broadcast a photograph from film. The instant video disk camera, also demonstrated at the FBI Academy, can hold up to 50 undeveloped photographs and send them to any other system to be shown on screen, printed, and/or stored for future use.

Additional applications of teleconferencing seem virtually limitless. A few examples are:

* Wanted posters or identification photographs transmitted quickly to a jurisdiction where a suspect is likely to have fled

* Training sessions between groups or an instructor and a group separated by great distances, with immediate question-and-answer capability

* Multijurisdictional task force agencies coordinated to investigate such diverse crimes as bank robbery, serial murders, or supremacist group activities

* Multijurisdictional raid planning, allowing officers from different departments to "meet" before the raid to discuss strategy and to see the officers with whom they will be working

* Remote depositions or court testimony that would allow questioning and cross-examination of witnesses or victims that may be out of State or out of the country, including individuals in the witness protection program

* Out-of-State lineup or fugitive identification

* Access to district attorneys' offices for assistance with applications for arrest and search warrants

* Remote demonstration of new equipment prior to purchase.

Many of the above uses were demonstrated at the FBI Academy training session. Afterward, participants came up with still more ideas for using the technology in their own departments.

Costs

What does high-level conferencing cost? With dial-up, public-switched service, teleconferencing within the United States costs $15.00 per hour, while a teleconference to Europe cost approximately $30 per hour. All things considered, especially when compared to average transmission charges of $2,000 per hour just a few years ago, high-level conferencing costs little. Furthermore, the price of teleconferencing is minimal when compared to the time and expense of the travel it replaces.

Once a teleconferencing system and transmission lines are in place, users are charged for public-switched networks only when they actually use the system. Like regular telephone service, the cost of the call depends on the length of the call and the distance between parties; the originator of the call pays the bill.

Just as compressed digital teleconferencing has reduced hourly transmission rates, so too has this technology dramatically reduced equipment costs. Not so long ago, videoconferencing required expensive, specially equipped rooms and dedicated transmission links. Today, an excellent system that meets most law enforcement needs is available for under $20,000.

Conclusion

Many of today's criminals use sophisticated methods to commit crimes and avoid apprehension. To remain effective, police departments need to stay at least one step ahead. Two-way teleconferencing may be just the type of tool law enforcement needs to maintain that extra edge.

Endnote

1 As a member of the 169th graduating class of the FBI National Academy, Captain Bellew introduced this technology to law enforcement as a directed study project in conjunction with the Education and Communication Arts Unit, FBI Academy, Quantico, Virginia.

Captain Bellew heads the Research and Development Division of the Peabody, Massachusetts, Police Department.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Federal Bureau of Investigation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Focus on technology; the future of law enforcement communications
Author:Bellew, Gerald P.
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Aug 1, 1993
Words:1221
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