Mobile Off-Road Surveillance
by PC Dave Brook
W. Yorkshire Police (U.K.)
The sight of video vans and police
patrol cars with dedicated camera surveillance equipment is nothing new,
either in the United States or United Kingdom.
But what about the sight of video cycles
yes, bike patrol officers
patrolling the inner cities, actively engaging in drug interdiction and more,
all captured on film, courtesy of a digital eyewitness.
You'd better believe it, because Chapeltown Community Cycle Unit, in conjunction
with Vision 2000, have designed and successfully trialled the first system
of its kind in the U.K. The system has been dubbed M.O.R.S.E. - Mobile
Off-Road Surveillance Equipment. It is based upon Vision 2000's successful
off-road motorcycle system, which is in use across the country.
It was whilst I was patrolling the streets of inner city Leeds on my Smith
& Wesson mountain cycle that it came to me - how to provide the ultimate
evidence needed to ensure the successful conviction of offenders.
Our team had initially been tasked with providing high-visibility reassurance
in crime hotspots. However, we soon became the talk of Chapeltown Division,
not only for our positive contribution to crime reduction, but also for the
effect we were having on the drug dealers. They were running scared, hoping
that they would not be the next to be snared by the stealthy cycle patrol
In just six months, our team made more than 50 arrests, the most successful
leading to the arrest of three drug dealers and the recovery of £30,000
worth of crack cocaine, four firearms, and a Taser. More arrests followed
- totalling nearly 100 in less than a year. But as any police officer knows,
making the arrest is only half the battle - gaining a conviction is the other,
and for that, solid evidence is required.
One of the arrests involved a question of identification, and despite the
fact that the suspect was identified in an identification parade, my evidence
was called into question. This would not have happened if I had been able
to capture the incident on camera.
I knew that officers elsewhere in the country had successfully trialled helmet
cameras in public order situations, but my own enquires suggested that this
technology was both expensive and limited in terms of its digital capabilities.
I wanted more - increased digital capability, infrared night vision, and
sound, but at a fraction of the cost. It was a tall order, but the folks
at Vision 2000 came through with a robust and extremely stable high definition
colour CCD camera with automatic Infra Red switching when light levels drop.
It records to a digital recorder in the mini DV format, and has the ability
to play back footage, at the scene, and digitally enhance it to assist in
identification. It has date and time coding, so we are confident about using
it in court.
During the first six months of cycle patrol, our biggest obstacle had been
scepticism, not just from senior ranks, but also from peers. The thought
of a camera on a pushbike soon generated a few chuckles in the canteen; however,
it was my team that had the last laugh.
The instant quality of the digital images soon convinced the doubters that
this system not only had potential, but would prove to be a worthwhile tool
in the fight against crime and anti-social behaviour.
The advantages are numerous, starting with the ultimate benefit of having
digital evidence to assist in the successful prosecution of all sorts of
We've all experienced it - the drug dealer at court denying he has dropped
a large quantity of crack cocaine
accusations from the defence counsel
calling the credibility of the police into question
your word against
Well, not any more. This system provides undeniable evidence. Parks, alleyways,
and snickets - common hunting-grounds of the lawless preying on vulnerable
victims - snatched from their grasp through the swift and stealthy actions
of bike officers armed with cameras.
We can quickly identify offenders - day or night. All they need to do is
peer round a corner and we have them. If they do get away, all we need to
do is calmly turn up at their home and lock them up. Remember - they can't
dispute they were there. Recently, one of our officers was almost knocked
off his bike by a dangerous driver. The driver challenged our word, but the
video evidence was unequivocal.
In the coming months, we have plans to use the cameras to assist in identifying
offenders at public order incidents - the advantages of real-time intelligence
gathering in these situations cannot be taken lightly. In the same vein,
we aim to pass information to intelligence units within the division for
the planning of operations. We patrol in areas that are well off the beaten
track, and by filming them, we can provide information to officers who may
be unfamiliar with them yet responsible for conducting targeted operations
Finally, we plan to use the cameras for training and development. We can
record our team members on the job, review the methods employed, and learn
from their successes and failures.
Our operational effectiveness has been enormously augmented by this system.
The uses are almost endless. We believe we have the best system for the job
and we intend to use it to its full potential.
So remember: when your cycle unit needs digital help, send out an S.O.S.
Call for M.O.R.S.E.
Dave can be reached at
© 2005 IPMBA. This article appeared in the Spring 2005 issue of IPMBA