By DYLAN GOFORTH
A round of testing Friday may have put the Tulsa Police Department on the homestretch of a five-year journey to outfit its vehicles with dash cameras.
A group of police officers and members of the city’s Information Technology Department spent Thursday and Friday traveling to the various police departments across Tulsa to assess whether upgrades to the wireless upload speeds had been successful.
“Everything went really well, all the tests (Friday) were successful,” City of Tulsa Chief Information Officer Michael Dellinger said. “Everything automatically connected and downloaded like it was supposed to.”
During some of the tests, a handful of the computers have not connected on their own, meaning the officers had to manually connect to the department’s wireless internet to upload their recording. Dellinger said the plan is for everything to connect and download automatically. The fewer steps involved, the fewer things that can go wrong, he said.
The last five years of camera implementation have been fraught with problems, with a number of issues popping up and slowing progress.
In 2010, the city agreed to pay more than $4 million to buy and install cameras in all patrol cars as part of the settlement of a long-running racial discrimination lawsuit.
The installation was part of an agreement that ended 16 years of litigation in a class-action case brought by black police officers.
The case was filed in January 1994 by then-Officer Roy Johnson, who alleged that the Tulsa Police Department discriminated against him and the other black officers in its ranks.
In 2012, Tulsa switched to a new style of in-car laptop to run the cameras, only to learn the cameras they purchased had been discontinued by the manufacturer.
So the city switched to a new high-definition camera, which presented its own problem. The recorded videos were much higher quality, but that meant the files uploaded from the squad cars were enormous, usually between 6 to 8 gigabytes of data.
That created a bottleneck when officers got off shift at the same time: It might take 15 minutes for one vehicle to upload their video, but if 10 cars arrived at the same time, it could take hours.
Those issues appear to have been solved following months of work beefing up the wireless infrastructure at the five police divisions across the city. Mingo Valley in east Tulsa and Gilcrease in north Tulsa each have four wireless access points.
Riverside, Special Operations and the downtown headquarters have three access points each.
“Right now the plan is to have all the cameras working by the end of August,” Dellinger said.
Dellinger said 529 of the approximately 580 police cars have cameras installed, though only 284 cars have working cameras. The others are lacking only a fuse necessary for recording — essentially, once the go-ahead is given, the switch will be flipped to “on,” and the vehicles will be fully functional.
Dellinger said the cameras in each vehicle will be activated by a series of triggers — such as when a vehicle hits a certain speed, or the police lights are turned on. Those same triggers control the camera turning off, too, Dellinger said. So if the police lights go off, so do the cameras.
“There are some other things, too,” he said. “Some of the cameras are timer based, for instance, but the majority are triggered on and off.”
That was one of the concessions they made to deal with the large file sizes being uploaded following a shift. Depending on the role played by each vehicle, the file size will be different, Dellinger said.
“You know, a traffic unit may record more video than another unit,” he said.
Dellinger said the next step is to do a 40-car test — basically a stress test — on Thursday. If successful, that should be the final test before full implementation.