Hicks Holdings, the Dallas-based investment arm of the family of former Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars owner Tom Hicks, announced Tuesday that it's throwing its considerable weight behind a company that makes body cameras and in-car video systems for police departments and transit authorities across the country.
The investment in Georgia-based Utility Associates, which Hicks Holdings calls "significant" while declining to provide the amount, is intended to help Utility expand its BodyWorn line of body cameras. Law enforcement agencies across the state of Texas and United States are ramping up body camera initiatives in the wake of high-profile police shootings around the country.
Utility's cameras are more sophisticated than the type worn by most North Texas departments, including the Dallas Police Department. They integrate nearly seamlessly into an officer's uniform, rather than being clipped on. Utility's software turns a camera on when a gun is fired nearby; when an officer is in a fight, thanks to an accelerometer; or when an officer has been knocked down.
Police departments using the cameras can also program them to begin recording when certain events occur. When the cameras begin recording, they save two previous minutes of footage with sound. DPD's current cameras are only capable of grabbing 30 seconds of video from before the cameras are turned on.
By taking the task of turning the cameras on out of officers' hands, Utility hopes to fix a problem encountered by many departments. In Dallas, DPD said in January, officers are only recording about one hour of footage per shift with their body cameras, about half the national average.
Mack Hicks, a partner at Hicks Holdings, says that automating the cameras provides the type of transparency both departments and the public are looking for.
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"Because there's a link that's essentially a high-speed router in the trunk of the car, once one of those three events [that turns the camera on] happens, all that data is isolated and streamed to the cloud. The officer is no longer able to view, tamper with it or whatever," Hicks says. "With the other products out there, you actually have to physically take the camera back to the station and put it in a docking port and upload that video file into the cloud."
While no North Texas department currently uses Utility's cameras, Hicks said the company is ironing out the final details of a deal with one DFW city. Eventually, he says, he'd like to see each department in the area wearing more responsive cameras.
"Given that this is our backyard, and this is the best system we have and we support our men and women in blue, we want this to be a part of every North Texas municipality, just because it is the best system," Hicks says.
DPD signed a five-year contract with its current body camera system for 1,000 cameras in 2015.