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VOL. 37 | NO. 20 | Friday, May 17, 2013

East Tennessee county finds value in video glasses

By Harriet Wallace

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John McConnell, president/CEO of Applied Technology Partners, demonstrates how an officer would use the glasses while using radar to check for speeders.

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In the far eastern corner of Tennessee, patrol officers use a high-tech tool that their big city counterparts may well envy.

The Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department was the first law enforcement agency in the state to buy Recon Series sunglasses, designed to take still pictures and record audio and video. The hands-free devices – 100 in all – were purchased using a grant from the Governor’s Highway Safety Office.

Police departments in Brentwood and Memphis are only being allowed to test the glasses on a trial basis.

Recon’s glasses are manufactured by Pivothead with an assist from Applied Technology of Brentwood, the company that developed the software that makes them work and manages the data the glasses produce.

Sullivan County had actually contacted the Brentwood firm to ask about in-car video, but ended up with the less expensive sunglasses.

“It was amazing. It was better than any video that I had seen. I thought it was the in-car [video] camera at first. The video is crystal clear and is very vivid. We can get a lot of uses out of it,” says Lt. Andy Seabolt, an operations lieutenant at Sullivan County in Blountville.

Sullivan County has 48 patrol officers, and each has a vehicle. But the department has only been able to afford in-car videos for 30 vehicles.

Seabolt says they opted for the glasses because of officer safety and for the collection of critical evidence. Affordably played a big role, too. In-car video recorders run $2,000-$7,000. The glasses cost $499 each.

“With budgets being strapped, some agencies can’t afford the in-car video, they can get these glasses to do the same thing,” says Clint Shrum, law enforcement liaison for the Governor’s Highway Safety Department of the Cumberland Region, which also is in charge of procurement for the agency.

“Maybe [there’s] not as much technology behind it, but they are still able to capture and preserve evidence with the video glasses,” says Shrum, who says an officer can get better video than from the traditional in-car video, particularly at DUI checkpoints.

“With the video glasses, that gives officers the ability to be more mobile and it’s just more affordable.

“Historically, with in-car video, we haven’t been able to record with effectiveness because of the distance that the offender is standing away [from the police car]. With the video glasses, were looking right at them eye-to-eye, and we can record that. That’s what excites us about that,” adds Shrum.

Shrum says the state Highway Safety Department is counting on the video glasses to bring in more driving under the influence convictions. The department has increased check points, put additional officers on the streets and strives to capture better evidence to use in court. This has resulted in more convictions, says Shrum.

Nashville criminal attorney Brent Horst agrees with Shrum that the video will make or break cases in court, particularly with DUIs.

“If you have strong video evidence either way, that will help resolve the case more easily than to have anyone argue it out in court and have the jury try to decide the version to believe,’’ Horst explains.

“It can be the singular thing that makes all the difference. If you have an officer who has recorded a DUI, and the person is clearly intoxicated, it’s much easier to resolve that case because you play that video for the client and they see how intoxicated they were and sometimes they don’t remember,” Horst adds.

Horst says that with the abundance of video recording devices, it might also raise a red flag for jurors if officers do not present video evidence to prove their case. He says that happened in a case he argued and actually was the tipping point that caused the jury to decide in his favor.