Body-worn cameras on estates

Residential Security Handbook 2022: SMART Estate Living Editor's Choice

Body-worn cameras (BWC) have been available for several years, but the adoption has been sporadic. Law enforcement was initially the primary user of this technology and the results proved effective at protecting both the public as well as officers who are often accused of inappropriate behaviour.

In the private security market, there have been numerous companies adopting the technology to a limited extent, but costs and the efficacy of BWC in Africa were often held up as a reason for their slow growth. This seems to be changing. Recent research from Omdia notes, “The potential total addressable market [for BWC] for private security dwarfs that of law enforcement.

“Feature set expansion for body-worn cameras, including live streaming capabilities and location-based services, are set to spur adoption of body-worn cameras outside of the traditional law enforcement applications in which the industry began. The body- worn camera industry is still in its infancy, with product specifications and customer requirements continuing to evolve as the way the technology is used continues to be refined at an organisational level.”

Omdia further adds, “Live streaming via LTE and GPS integration in body-worn cameras are the two largest drivers of the feature set expansion occurring in body-worn camera products today.”

There are already many estates in South Africa where BWC have been adopted and security officers wear them as a standard part of their uniforms. In the 2021 Residential Estate Security Handbook round table, it was noted that one of the main impacts of this was to do away with complaints from residents who were able to see their own conduct on video and subsequently decided that silence was the optimal solution instead of blaming guards for bad behaviour.

Nevertheless, BWC are still limited in their usage in Africa, both in the private and public sectors, although Forbatt SA’s Vaughn Tempelhoff says law enforcement adoption is also showing signs of growth in the region.

However, as more estates consider the utility of BWC, simply buying a few units for the cheapest price is not going to deliver the return on investment (ROI) desired – and this, of course, applies to any security technology. When considering BWC, one obviously needs to consider costs, but there are other important factors to consider if you want the investment to be worthwhile.

BWC considerations

Tempelhoff says estate managers need to fully understand the intended use of the devices and the total cost of ownership for the products during their life expectancy. “There are cost-effective units around, even products for personal use. These products do not last and become a desk ornament or lost somewhere on a shelf. Hence, products built for security use are far more robust and last longer as they are built specifically for their intended use. They offer, in most cases, better battery life, more features and flexibility.”

Of the many factors to consider, a few of the most important ones, according to Tempelhoff, include the performance of the camera in low light conditions and the ability of the camera to either provide IR or white light when needed. “A further important factor is the BWC completely avoids the ‘he said, she said’ scenario, hence good quality audio and compression are vitally important as well.”

Vaughn Tempelhoff.

Keith Lawrence.

Danny Pringle.

BetaTrac Telematic Solutions’ Keith Lawrence agrees that economics is a consideration, but he notes that the technology is an ideal tool, presenting security managers with so much useful data, such as video and audio clips of incidents that have taken place on an estate for a more thorough evaluation and assessment of the occurrence. “Body-worn cameras are also a powerful tool for training the field security officers on how to approach difficult situations.”

What is important for Lawrence is endurance. “Endurance is the downfall of many a BWC, their window of battery life is just not up to a standard 12-hour shift. A wise choice would be a BWC with an extended battery to easily cover lengthy shifts, with reserves in case of an emergency.”

He adds that today’s BWC technology also includes features such as live 4G and Wi-Fi, real-time recording with built-in panic buttons and PTT (Push-to-Talk), as well as GPS live tracking functionalities. Control rooms can now see live views and assist the field officer in managing and directing events via the PTT functions.

Robustness is another factor for Lawrence. “The majority of BWC are supplied as stand-alone units, which is their downfall through mishandling, droppages and even losses. There are available fully integrated BWC built into lightweight jackets which eliminate and reduce mishandling while adding extended endurance and post-shift or post-event managing of video data.”

More than video clips

Secutel Technologies’ Danny Pringle believes that, in the case of residential estates, the security of residents and the estate should be paramount when deciding on the strategy to mitigate risk. “The challenge when increasing the investment in physical security technology should ideally also provide some additional benefits for estates and security service providers.”

He states that BWC cameras have evolved over time and with the right technology one can have a single device and single platform which can ensure that all stakeholders can rely on transparency, the accuracy of reporting, improved incident management, improved decision-making and compliance with service level agreements.

SecuTraq body-worn camera.

“Deployment of guards who need to control access to the estate as well as others who patrol on foot and/or in vehicles and others who have to respond to calls for assistance from residents, pose different challenges. It is expected, as a minimum, that the technology selected should ensure that the posting of guards is managed, patrol guards are where they should be at any given point in time and they can be tracked, be able to communicate and be able to share visuals and voice calls with others through the same easy-to-use device”.

Pringle also agrees that guards in estates are often exposed to potential verbal (sometimes physical) abuse from residents or visitors when they deal with controversial or abnormal situations. “Security managers should have SOPs in place to enable the guard to defuse the situation. However, if a situation escalates to the extent where it results in physical or verbal abuse, the resident or visitor is normally given the benefit of doubt unless proven otherwise. BWC that can record and share the conversation, images and footage with the control room or manager and thereby not only escalate the situation but also keep a complete record of an event, allowing the estate management to make informed decisions and take appropriate corrective actions. BWC should no longer be used for snapshots and video clips only.”

Pringle also provides the following rather extensive list as ‘basic requirements’ for BWC:

• Quality of snapshots and videos with low image distortion. Video clips and snapshots must also be able to be sent to the control room in real-time to enable control room operators to see what is happing in the field.

• Ease-of-operation through the use of one-key buttons for panic/video or voice recording/PTT, easy-to-follow steps on a touch screen and a laser positioning LED to assist the guard with camera alignment.

• Durability in all weather conditions (preferably IP67 rating) and battery life that can last for a full shift and support a change battery without power loss.

• Support 4G and/or Wi-Fi to communicate in real-time with the control room or other guards.

• Guard patrol monitoring by reading NFC tags, Bluetooth beacons, QR codes or GPS virtual waypoints.

• Accurate GPS tracking with reporting at intervals that do not compromise battery life.

• The control room operators must be able to request video and/or sound clips or snapshots from the device to obtain more detailed information when required.

• In the case of an emergency, the guard should be able to trigger a panic event by pressing a single button and the BWC should automatically trigger snapshots which should be sent to the control room. These images or videos should be able to be displayed on the screen of any of the first responders that acknowledge the panic situation. The guard should also be able to press a single PTT button to start a voice communication with the members in his group – which could include the monitoring control room.

• The unit should be able to send a system health message (heartbeat) at regular intervals, for example, every five minutes. These heartbeats should contain information such as tamper status, battery level, GSM signal strength and more.

• Automated time and attendance, based on the authentication of the identity of the guard being at the pre-defined physical location.

“With our SecuTraq solution, we can provide AI analytics which includes facial recognition and licence plate recognition in the SecuTraq cloud,” Pringle adds.

From the control room perspective

When looking at the utility of BWC from the estate’s perspective, the control room/operations centre needs to be able to access BWC footage immediately if there is an emergency, or simply to run regular checks on the guard and the environment. This means the choice of BWC needs to be determined by the software that is bought with the devices or the ability to integrate the device into existing management platforms.

Tempelhoff says this is the most important part in distinguishing between a purpose-built BWC for security use and personal cameras for private use. The video from purpose-built BWC can be viewed in numerous ways, including in real-time or post event. “Kedacom’s viewing options include local viewing from the device (as it supports an LCD display), live viewing on most conventional VMS platforms in the market and more (as the units support ONVIF and have built in Wi-Fi/4G). They can be automatically uploaded to purpose-built docking stations or alternatively backed up via USB. The options are endless and would mostly depend on the project and preferences of the end-user.”

Lawrence expands on this, noting that the only way a control centre will be able to monitor live viewing is if the BWC has such 4G and/or Wi-Fi capabilities. “Generally, a software program is supplied with the BWC as part of the package to simplify the live or playback functionalities. In addition, independent custom-designed cables to reduce BWC handling and mis-use to single or multiple docking stations are available to capture post video script and for the charging of the BWC.”

The bandwidth issue

When using 4G or LTE, BWC can stream live footage to a control room in real-time, however, the bandwidth required for video is obviously a concern. Pringle explains that constant real-time streaming of all video footage is not feasible from a data cost and bandwidth point of view.

“The Secutel system is designed around the principle of dealing with exceptions and our success lies in the effective way we use data and voice communication and the efficient handling of snapshots and videos. With SecuTraq, there is no need to upload videos to a server after a shift, as snapshots are sent to the monitoring platform in real-time. The size of video clips is controlled and managed to ensure that data usage remains cost-effective, especially over GSM where Wi-Fi is not available. For all conversations using the SecuTraq PTT over GSM feature, voice conversations are recorded and can be uploaded and listened to at any time and guards from any location can use the BWC like a walkie-talkie radio, but without the limitation of distance from a base station.

“The SecuTraq BWC range can be charged using industry-standard chargers as single units or in a cradle where multiple units can be charged simultaneously. With its latest model, batteries can be replaced without loss of power to the unit for up to 15 minutes.”

BWC solutions available

Naturally, each of the three participants in this article offer their own BWC solutions. To conclude the article, we asked each one to highlight their solutions and associated benefits.

Tempelhoff explains that Kedacom has a vast number of options to suit every end-user need. Optional extras include chest straps, in-car dash mount options and more. “As most BWC have a fundamental flaw (recording video only in the direction the camera is pointed), Kedacom overcomes this with optional extras that include an earhook or button camera. Once plugged into the camera, the BWC would disable the local camera and start recording the remote camera. We also have other accessories that assist in managing the cameras.”

“We at BetaTrac, with seven years’ experience of BWC, offer a complete package entailing a lightweight vest with the BWC positioned correctly and secured for safe use and not merely clipped onto the security officer’s apparel,” adds Lawrence. “The biggest issue we have seen to date is the stand-alone BWC clipped onto apparel, which leads to misuse and droppages with poor video productions; by having an integrated lightweight vest this phenomenon is eliminated.

“We have also designed an external battery for extending the BWC operation’s endurance to easily cover a 12-hour shift along with power reserves. A custom-designed USB cable for ease of downloading of video data without having to remove or handle the BWC eliminates the possibility of damage or loss etc.”

Pringle states that SecuTraq is a tried and tested solution designed and built in South Africa to cater to African conditions. The monitoring and administrative platform is cloud-based and as such can monitor guards and units from anywhere in the world. “The SecuTraq BWC range is Android-based and as such supports industry standards and the software can also be upgraded remotely. The new SecuTraq MP210 BWC is physically small (102 x 63,6 x 28,6 mm) and only weighs 215 g with the clamp and has a 2,8-inch full colour touchscreen.”

Furthermore, he says the SecuTraq mobile app can also be installed on an Android phone, “which then turns the phone into a BWC offering all the functions of our BWC range with the added capability to read barcodes and QR codes for applications, like visitor management where ID card and vehicle licence disks can be read and identified.”


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