Bye-bye, cop on the beat. Police departments went high-tech a long time ago, and Israel’s is one of the most advanced in the world. It has hundreds of people working on research and development of new security products, and it shares some of the fruits of their labors with , gratis.
The Israel Police employs 35,000 people, most of them police officers with the balance being civilian employees, including secretaries, purchasing agents, administrators, and the like. But 700 of those employees work in one of the less well-known divisions of the police department — the Technical Administration, where members of the force and civilian police employees work on new ways to keep Israelis safe and honest.
There aren’t many tech companies in Israel’s private sector that have 700 employees, but the Technology Administration needs every one, said Oded Shamla, head of the R&D department. Because police have specialized needs, the department has found that the easiest, fastest, and smartest way to develop things is to develop it themselves. The administration’s four divisions — communications, hardware, IT development (centered on software), and, most notaby, Shamla’s own R&D unit — all work to develop new products or improve existing ones.
Officials of the administration were out in force at this week’s International Conference on Homeland Security in Tel Aviv, entertaining a seemingly endless train of top security and police officials from around the world. In the space of a half-hour, a slew of visitors — the chiefs of the Bologna and Nice police departments; top police officials from several African countries; as well as Claude Baland, chief of France’s National Police — dropped by the administration’s booth to see the latest and greatest developments in homeland security.
Among those are an innovative camera meant for use on a balloon. “Police have tried many times to develop a camera like this, but it’s been very tricky,” said Shamla. The camera needs to be light enough to stay afloat and not act as a drag on the balloon. To boot, less weight in a camera means fewer features. Yet in order for the photos (or video) taken by the camera to be useful, it needs to have high-resolution capabilities, communication chips, and more bells and whistles. And there’s the balloon itself, said Shamla. “If it’s too small, the balloon tends to drift and cannot be expected to follow a specific trajectory. But if it’s too big, it become too complicated to control.”
The solution is the balloon-and-camera developed by the R&D department, which has just the right combination of weight and features, both in the camera and the balloon. “It’s much more stable than anything we could find anywhere else. So we designed it and are working with an Israeli start-up to produce it,” said Shamla. “We are using it not only for crowd control, but also for traffic: Drivers who don’t see a cop or a camera on the side of the road should realize that this camera may be taking their photo,” he added.
Another intriguing product developed by the department is a “camera bomb,” a round object that looks like a hand grenade that has tough high-resolution cameras and video equipment inside a tough casing. Police can use the camera to get an inside view of a room that they are unable to get people into. The camera is thrown into the room like a hand grenade, but instead of exploding, it takes photo and video which it beams back to the cops outside the room.
And then there’s the virtual shooting range, sort of like a real-life video game, replacing target practice on the range. A special interactive video screen displays a “perp” involved in a crime, trying to escape, etc. The officer practicing his or her shooting takes aim at the screen with a special gun (designed to the same weight, size and specifications they use in the field), shooting the figure on the screen – who then falls and suffers an “injury” in accordance with the place in the body the “bullet” hit. “It saves time and resources, as well as money,” said Shamla. “Police can do their target practice right in the station, avoiding having to go out to a shooting range, and saving money on practice bullets.”
And saving money for police all over the world, said Shamla. “That’s why we offer our technology for free to departments abroad. Police departments are usually poor and overburdened, expected to do a lot of work on a shoestring. We have found that by working with and partnering with other police departments, we can maximize our ability to get our work done.”
The Israel Police have worked out tech deals with numerous departments, said Shamla, with the latest being Canada’s National Police, which will sign an agreement in the near future, he said. “We help each other with technology and other means,” Shamla said. “We’re happy to go to shows like this and present our technology, giving us the opportunity to connect with other police departments around the world.”