Digital Watchmen: Local company gives insight on body cameras

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BYRON CENTER, Mich. -- Body cameras have been talked about frequently in recent months following protests fueled by tensions with law enforcement officials across the country, but who are the people who actually make them?

We rely on tech innovators to develop groundbreaking devices that assist police departments around the world. Body cameras serve as a valuable crime fighting tool, and help provide police transparency.

"In the public eye, it is certainly a more popular topic. It is at the tip of everybody's tongue," said Steve Wagasky, national sales manager for Pro-Vision.

Pro-Vision Video Systems in Byron Center has been developing body cameras for years, but with the recent push to equip officers across the country with the cameras, the West Michigan tech company said that they are working around the clock to fill orders being placed by law enforcement agencies near and far, from large police departments in southern California to your average middle American agency.

"They are any town USA. They are Lowell, they are Grand Haven, they are, you know, where you have 20 officers and 10 cars. That's the major majority of all the departments across the country," said Wagasky.

Pro-Vision Video Systems claims there are thousands of officers wearing their cameras. The company has been in the business of police transparency for years. Pro-Vision first developed in-car cameras, also known as dash cams, then moved towards a more mobile device.

"They can activate recording by simply pressing record and stop on their remote control or snap a photo," said Sam Lehnert, marketing manager at Pro-Vision Video Systems.

Being the extra eyes for officers, the body cam is simple to use. That is something its developers said is crucial in emergency situations.

It’s not just law enforcement using body cameras. Other professions have taken a liking into the body cameras, expecially emergency workers. Tow truck drivers can capture illegally parked cars.

Pro-Vision Video Systems said that it uses feedback from law enforcement agencies when developing new versions of their body camera technology.

We’ve all seen surveillance and dash camera video where you can barely see any facial characteristics to help identify a suspect, but Pro-Vision's technology shooting in high definition.

"It's got to be high definition, it's got a wide field of view. Our body camera has a 170 degree field of view," said Wagasky.

"Sometimes they'll bring back that video, and can't see the face, the details. All of the things that might be able to you know help assist in prosecuting a crime or showing what really happened," said Sam Lehnert.

The cameras can clip to an officer's mid-section or even clip to a shoulder strap. The battery lasts an entire shift and can record up to 18 hours of high definition video before exporting it to the agency’s server.

Pro-Vision Video Systems said that it’s up to each agency to implement their policy for how often an officer should record with the device. "Three sides to those stories: the videos show you exactly what those three sides are. It gives you the truth of that third side," said Lehnert.

Taking pride in creating a device that millions of Americans are hoping will provide a clearer picture of law enforcement encounters with the public, Pro-Vision Video Systems said that body cameras are here to stay.

"Why do you give them a body camera? Why do you put a backup camera on their vehicle? You know what, it's the right thing to do," said Wagasky.

The City of Grand Rapids recently approved a plan to begin phasing in body cameras beginning in March.

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