A Lenexa company, Digital Ally Inc., has generated national attention lately for a product that brings new meaning to a police officer’s call for backup.
The company is the innovative force behind body and dash cameras used increasingly by police departments of all sizes, and the company plans to increase its workforce more than 40 percent this year.
Nearly 1,300 police departments, including several in the Kansas City area, are using Digital Ally’s chest-mounted and clip-on body cameras, which can record video and optional audio from the police officer’s point of view, day or night. The cameras can capture what the eye may see but what the mind may forget.
According to Digital Ally chief executive Stan Ross, the equipment arms police officers with the tools they need to “protect their jobs and increase the rate and speed of convictions.”
“Law enforcement can utilize technology and use it correctly,” Ross said. “Before body cameras, whatever an officer said in court was golden because he or she was a sworn officer of the court.”
But today, he added, judges want video evidence.
After the product hit the market in 2009, nearly 200 of the nation’s 18,000 police departments were soon equipped with Digital Ally’s compact body cameras.
The jump to 1,300 departments occurred in the last six months in the wake of protests that began with the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
Digital Ally’s biggest competitor, Phoenix-based Taser, said it has seen a significant increase in the sales of its body cameras as well.
After the Ferguson shooting, the Missouri Highway Patrol got in touch with Digital Ally and eventually bought cameras and software for the Ferguson police that can record, transfer and manage video.
Despite the help for the Ferguson police, Ross said, “unfortunately, all this talk of police departments getting body cameras is just that — talk. The truth is most departments don’t have the funding.”
But the federal government has stepped in to help. In early December, President Barack Obama pledged to disperse $75 million to law enforcement agencies around the country to buy 50,000 body cameras — helpful but still a drop in the bucket for the 750,000 police officers employed in the U.S.
Ross expects Digital Ally to benefit from the funding, which is why it is hiring an additional 50 employees in 2015, mostly in sales and engineering. The company now has about 110 employees.
In the Kansas City area, Digital Ally has outfitted several law enforcement agencies with body cameras, including the Baldwin and Roeland Park police departments in Kansas and the Raytown and Raymore police departments on the Missouri side.
Baldwin has equipped its eight full-time and three part-time officers with Digital Ally’s body cameras, and its six patrol cars have the company’s in-car video system. According to Patrol Sgt. Mike Underwood, the cars are each equipped with four cameras that can capture video and audio for situations including vehicle stops, calls to a home, the transfer of prisoners and overall safety when putting the vehicles in reverse.
“Even though we’re a small department, we still have complaints from the public like bigger departments. It’s important to have a video and audio account to protect both officers and citizens,” Underwood said. “Additionally, it’s important for us to stay up on the latest technology. It has proven very beneficial.”
Underwood said he likes that the body cameras activate automatically when officers turn on their emergency lights. And while the video is often used as a training tool for new officers and new situations, Underwood said another big advantage of Digital Ally’s products is the time it saves his officers in court.
“We don’t have the figures yet, but I myself can say that I don’t have to go to court nearly as much as I used to, now that we have video and audio backup,” he said.
Most of Digital Ally’s law enforcement clients serve small towns. That’s because it’s easier and faster for smaller towns to get budget approval for the cameras, Ross said.
Still, big departments can experience big returns on their investments. For example, The Wall Street Journal recently reported that New York City spends about $152 million on police misconduct settlements each year. Outfitting every patrol officer with a body camera would be a substantial savings, costing about $32 million.
New York police are currently in the early stages of a body camera test and evaluation program.
Digital Ally’s products include the FirstVu HD and FirstVu Single-Enclosure body cameras, which are small but provide a wide, 130-degree view of an officer’s surroundings. The chest-mounted camera weighs just 4 ounces and comes in two pieces — a lightweight lens attached to the chest and the unit’s slightly larger housing tucked into a shirt pocket, connected by a small wire.
A clip-on, directional camera can be attached to a cap or glasses. In each case, the cameras operate on smart-focus engineering.
A docking station allows up to 12 body cameras charging two batteries simultaneously and transferring video, either to an online or on-site server.
As popular as they are, however, body cameras are not the only answer, Ross said. Combining body cameras with dash cams — Digital Ally’s in-car video system — officers can collect data from nearly any vantage point, Ross said. Now in the hands of 6,000 police departments around the country, the in-car system records what’s going on inside the car as well as what’s on the other side of the front windshield.
Digital Ally currently has five dash cam options designed for law enforcement use and one designed for commercial fleets, such as ambulances, taxis, utility trucks and tow trucks. That segment makes up 10 percent of its business, Ross said.
Digital Ally sells its body cameras at $795 per unit, while its in-car systems are priced between $1,795 and $3,995. Officer training takes two days.
For law enforcement, Ross said the real benefit of Digital Ally’s dash and body cameras is the behavioral changes that occur for police officers and the people they protect — and arrest.
“Knowing he or she is equipped with a camera, the police officer is more likely to act and carry him- or herself more professionally,” Ross said, “while those individuals who know the officer’s wearing it are less likely to accuse them of improperly handling the situation.”
Digital Ally Inc.
Headquarters: 9705 Loiret Blvd., Lenexa
Third quarter revenue: $4.7 million
Third quarter loss: $6.4 million
Note: Financial results are for the three months ending Sept. 30.