East Bay News

High-tech backpacks help cops track protesters

Wednesday, May 02, 2012
Oakland cops use high-tech backpack to track protesters Few buildings damaged in Oakland protests An Oakland police officer covered in pant. Oakland police officers and protesters clash during a May Day march in downtown Oakland (May 1, 2012/KGO) May Day protest May Day protesters march in downtown Oakland

Oakland police had some help keeping May Day protesters in line from a high tech device developed in the Bay Area.

Using video cameras is nothing new for police during a major protest. They use them to gather evidence and even wear tiny ones on their uniforms.

But now those cameras aren't just recording, they're broadcasting.

"We were able to monitor a total of four feeds, one being attached to our helicopter unit and three mobile units," said Sgt. Chris Bolton of the Oakland Police Department.

Oakland police are using backpack transmitters called TVUPacks. They're the same ones reporters at ABC7 News use to bring live coverage from the middle of protests, and they're made by a company in Mountain View.

"There were always thoughts that this could be a useful tool not only for broadcasters but for law enforcement," said TVU Networks spokesman Dan Sorensen.

TVU Networks loaned four of the packs to Oakland police, who are quickly finding a picture is worth a thousand words when commanders are deciding where to send officers.

"We were monitoring crowd movement throughout the city as well as stationary events such as the plaza and other smaller events throughout the city," said Bolton.

The backpack has eight 4G wireless cards. It divides the video up into little pieces, sends them out over the cellular networks, and then reassembles them on the other end.

Transmitting the video takes about two seconds, meaning police can see what's going on pretty much the instant it happens.

Even though protesters are tweeting, posting on Facebook, and talking on their phones -- the backpack still manages to send back a picture by using Sprint, Verizon and AT&T networks all at once.

"So you're able to still maintain a high picture quality or maintain a signal even if one of the networks cuts out," said Sorensen.

Police say the high-tech equipment helped them stop troublemakers before they got out of hand.

"I think that it did have good results. We're going to move forward to how we can implement this going forward in the future," said Bolton.

But to do that, Oakland police may have to dig deep into their pockets. They were quoted a price of $24,000 each for those backpacks. The high cost of the backpacks is partly due to the fact that each one needs a special computer on the other end to receive the signal.

But those computers also record everything that they stream live, meaning that Oakland police will be able to very quickly turn that video around as evidence against the troublemakers who were arrested.

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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oakland, occupy oakland, protest, crime, gadgets, east bay news, jonathan bloom
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