Monroe County Sheriff’s Office

Sheriff's Office Uses Panasonic to Lock Down Evidence and Reinforce Policies In Florida Keys

Monroe County, Florida. Easy on the eyes. Tough on technology.

The Monroe County Sheriff's Office operates in one of the most beautiful, and demanding, jurisdictions in the United States: the Florida Keys. The Sheriff's Office patrols 112 islands and 115 square miles of dry land plus twice that much open water. It takes 189 road patrol personnel in 189 vehicles, four marine officers on four vessels and three helicopters to do the job.

It's up to Director of Information Systems Jim Painter and his six-person IT department to keep every person in the field connected to the digital tools they need to do their jobs.

"Islands, coastlines, maritime operations — the Florida Keys are a hot, humid, salty and harsh place for any device, let alone computers and body cameras," says Painter. Since 1999, Panasonic gear has stood up to the elements and stood the test of time.

It Began with Toughbook

The Monroe County Sheriff's Office began using Panasonic Toughbook laptops for mobile police data in 1999. Over the years, the county has explored competitors at every refresh cycle, but after seeing too many blue screens and laptops that couldn't take the heat in the Keys, Toughbook has remained their computer of choice.

"You get what you pay for," says Painter. "We run them for eight to ten years, then give them away, and they're still working."

Out With the Tape

When the Sheriff's Office secured funds to replace the aging VHS camera systems in their vehicles, their experience with Toughbook put Panasonic Arbitrator on their short list for digital vehicle video. They installed their first Arbitrator in 2008 and now field 125 of the latest-generation Arbitrator 360 HD vehicle systems.

Having secure, documented evidence of every moment isn't just for police cruisers, at least not in Monroe County. Painter and his team have installed Arbitrator cameras and tamper-proof recorders in six of the agency's interview rooms.

"Arbitrator captures everything people are saying," says Lieutenant Derek Paul, Station Commander with the Sheriff's Office. "If they change their story later, it's hard to turn around and say ‘I didn't say that.' We have their face talking to us! That's hard to deny in court."

Serving the County's Best Interests

Rather than lock the Sheriff's Office into expensive installation, service and software contracts, Panasonic engineers trained county technicians and local shops so that the Sheriff's Office could do their own, certified installations and repairs.

"Being able to install and maintain systems on our own is a huge cost savings," says Painter, who also credits Panasonic for keeping designs and form factors for Toughbook and Arbitrator stable over the years. "The Havis mounts and wiring harnesses that worked ten years ago still work with the latest Panasonic hardware," he says

Keeping Things Local

The Panasonic service ethic extends to supporting the Sheriff's Office with the exact software solutions they need. Unified Evidence Management software can run on local or cloudbased application servers. Data storage is even more flexible: Departments can store files locally, in the cloud or any mix of the two. For the Monroe County Sheriff's Office, Panasonic developed an entirely local platform that runs on Sheriff's Office-owned servers, which gives them more flexibility at much lower costs.

Anywhere, Everywhere Uploads

Every vehicle has a 4G hotspot that keeps the officer's Toughbook computer and Arbitrator vehicle system connected throughout the Keys. Every second of video and audio — plus data from motion sensors, vehicle lights, CAD and GPS data — uploads live from the field and is available for review within minutes.

"If we have an arrest, we're able to pull the video immediately and see it from the officer's point of view," says Lt. Paul. "It's very efficient. I can find every video linked to the event, by case number, date and time, or officer and vehicle."

Self-service Evidence for the State Attorney's Office

That immediate flow of secure evidence extends far beyond the Sheriff's Office, creating efficiency throughout the Florida justice system. The Florida State Attorney's Office has their own instance of the Arbitrator platform in their office that links them directly into the system.

Attorneys and clerks log in to the Arbitrator evidence management system using a secure, VPN connection. Attorneys can pull and review every second of footage that pertains to a case on their own. Everything prosecutors need to build their case is at their fingertips, and the Sheriff's Office records division almost never needs to burn discs or courier them to the courthouse.

"When an officer goes in for depositions," says Lt. Paul, "the attorneys have the video up and ready to go."

Choosing the Right Body Cameras

As body camera technology matured, the Sheriff's Office began testing equipment from multiple vendors. Some didn't offer 1080 HD video; others weren't rugged enough for use on the watercraft that patrol the 112 islands in the Sheriff's jurisdiction. The military-rugged Arbitrator Body Worn Camera (BWC) checked off all the technical requirements, but that wasn't what made it Monroe County Sheriff's Office's first choice for body cameras.

No $1 Million Hosting Fee

"We tested a competitor — gave the cameras to our deputies — and the video was OK," says Painter. "But you had to go to their cloud-based server to get it, and that came with a $1 million a year licensing fee, each year of the contract. Over five years, it was going to cost us $5 million in storage fees just for the body cameras."

With Panasonic, the Sheriff's Office was able to add rugged, 1080 HD body cameras without increasing their ongoing overhead. The new cameras are 100% compatible with Monroe County's existing, local Arbitrator evidence management system, which collates body camera footage with evidence captured by in-vehicle Arbitrator systems. All the evidence from an event lives in the same system, so it's easy to retrieve.

"We wanted to have all the evidence right in front of us. We didn't want officers or attorneys looking for video here, there, everywhere. Arbitrator keeps everything in one place," Painter says.

A Powerful Investigative Tool

Monroe County now fields 190 Arbitrator BWCs. Every officer who works directly with the public carries one, including detectives, airport and school police, and marine patrols. The cameras' 12-hour batteries allow officers to record every call on a shift and more.

"During interviews, officers have started using their Arbitrators to record conversations. They set them on the table and capture every second. It's a lot more accurate than taking notes," Painter reports.

The captured conversation uploads to the evidence management system automatically. Because the camera embeds additional data like time, GPS location and the officer's identity into the file, every second the BWC captures is an airtight piece of evidence.

Arbitrator can do a lot more than capture video. The Monroe County Sheriff's Office has created ways to use all the data Arbitrator captures — GPS location, speed, vehicle telemetry — to keep officers safe while they're on the job.

"We need to be safe — no excessive speed" — Rick Ramsay, Monroe County Sheriff

Going Beyond Evidence Capture

Historically, driving has been the most dangerous activity for officers in Monroe County. "We were having a lot of officerinvolved crashes," says Lt. Paul.

That's why the Sheriff's mantra is "When you're speeding, you're in danger." With Arbitrator, the Sheriff's Office has a powerful tool to help officers moderate their speeds and live to drive another day.

"Anytime you go over 70 mph or turn on the light bar, the Arbitrator goes on," says Painter. "Plus, we've programmed the system to automatically flag and report all speeds in excess of 80 mph."

"Lieutenants, captains and above review speeding incidents and video. ‘Why is the deputy traveling at this speed'?" says Lt. Paul. "I pull the case number to determine what justified, or didn't justify, the officer traveling at that speed. If the officer wasn't authorized to run code, we have a talk."

Frequent unauthorized speeding incidents act as an early warning system that helps the Sheriff's Office intervene and retrain officers. Since the department began using Arbitrator to enforce safe driving policies, speeding incidents and traffic accidents have dropped dramatically.

Real-life Training Scenarios

Adding Arbitrator BWCs is increasing insight into officer safety and performance beyond the vehicle. Field training officers now have an officer's-eye view into every incident and interaction with the public. Administrators and trainers review body camera video each week for teachable moments. When they find an incident that showcases good technique, or bad, they pull the video and use it in officer training.

"We watch all the videos involved in a pursuit and situations with use of force. And we spot check other recordings to make sure officers adhere to procedures. If we see a move that isn't safe, like if an officer turns their back to someone," says Lt. Paul, "we'll sit down and go through the video, look at what's gone right and wrong."

An Effective Check and Balance on Officers and the Public

"My other big duty — as a station commander," says Lt. Paul, "is making sure my officers are talking nice, helping people. If an officer generates a complaint — maybe a citizen thinks the officer was rude or spoke incorrectly — we review the video."

"If the video supports the complaint, it goes on to Internal Affairs," explains Lt. Paul. "If the officer didn't violate policy but wasn't exactly polite, we'll sit down with the officer, watch the video and help them think about how someone would feel."

Often, the video is on the officer's side. "People try to get the officer in trouble to get out of tickets," says Lt. Paul. "A lot of ‘officer was rude' complaints end when we offer to look at the video with the person."

A Tool That's Earning It's Place In Law Enforcement and the Justice System

When video technologies first showed up in vehicles, not every officer was happy, but the tools rapidly proved to be indispensable. The arrival of BWCs is following a similar trajectory: apprehension, adaptation, acceptance.

"There is the perception of someone looking over your shoulder," says Lt. Paul, "but I love it. We get to see the interactions between the deputies and the public, which is great."

It's not just administrators responsible for officer conduct who like body cameras. Body cameras are winning over officers, attorneys, jurors and the general public.

"Body cameras make the officer's job a lot easier, especially on the witness stand," says Lt. Paul. "It really shows the jury what the deputy is going through at the time. It shows the public what we do on a daily basis."

Equipping officers with Arbitrator BWCs has had a huge impact on the Monroe County Sheriff's Office and the people they serve.

"It's really changed things in a great way," says Lt. Paul. "There's nothing negative about having the ability to record an incident as it's occurring."

Technology That Takes the Long View

Capturing evidence that will stand up in court, protecting officer safety, improving relationships with the community — the capabilities of Arbitrator video systems and evidence management software are making a huge impact in Monroe County. However, for law enforcement and the public to truly benefit, the technology must be rugged, reliable and stable enough to create 100% reliable results.

"These body cameras are not fragile," reports Lt. Paul. "They hold up. We've had officers go into the water, get into fights, knock their cameras around — and the cameras are still working fine."

Rugged body cameras and vehicle recorders are important and having a partner the Sheriff's Office can count on is absolutely critical. Because Panasonic stays focused on the Sheriff's Office's long-term needs instead of pitching the latest disruptive tech fad, Jim Painter and his IT team have been able to build a stable, reliable foundation for capturing the information, insight and unassailable evidence the Sheriff's Office and the people of Monroe County need.