PowerFlare Safety Beacon Review

Chemical-based road flares are going by the wayside, yielding to LED lighting technology and the many options available with the PowerFlare line of safety beacons.

IMG_7062Emergency responders have good reason to move away from potassium perchlorate and other substances used in conventional pyrotechnic safety flares – not the least of which is the PowerFlare will not set anything on fire.  After recently running into Tricia Callahan, PowerFlare’s VP of sales, at the National Homeland Security Conference, I was a more than curious about her product.  She sent me a sample beacon so I could decide for myself whether I ever wanted to light another road flare again.  Full disclosure: Tricia didn’t have much work to do – when I was a rookie cop I ruined a new pair of uniform pants after some hot flare slag went flying and burned holes in the fabric.

PowerFlares come with many options – including a rechargeable version.  The standard power option is the single 3V CR123A lithium battery, making for a good shelf life.  Agencies and individuals can choose between many exterior “shell” colors as well as many lighting colors.  All models are equipped with a full range of lighting patterns, from rapid strobes, to steady-on, and in several levels of brightness.  The lights are LED, making them efficient, but I was worried about brightness and the distance from which they would be visible.  That didn’t appear to be an issue after a nighttime test, however, with the doughnut-sized lighting puck providing brilliant light – at least with the red LED version I was provided.

The lights appear well made, and equally tough.  They’re not light, so they will stay in place, and the weight gives them a rugged feel.  Mine came with an optional magnet, which allows for so many more mounting options that it should be universal.  For example, they can quickly adhere to a vehicle or temporary command post.  I’m not sure I could even see myself ordering a non-magnetic version.  I was so impressed by it that my evaluation of the PowerFlare began with me sticking it to any metal object I could find around the office.

Storage and deployment packaging for the PowerFlare is not short of options either.  From hard cases and bags, to the “bucket of beacons” with 24 or 36 units inside, there are almost too many options to choose from.  They’ve also thought of usability options too, with a traffic cone adapter that elevates the beacon above the roadway (though in my evaluation I seemed to prefer the way the light shines on the roadway surface when its on the ground).

Overall, the PowerFlare is a huge improvement over road flares for more reasons than I can count.  They are safe, waterproof, easy to carry, much easier to deploy, and the available options make them a no-brainer for emergency managers and first responders.  The only downside is that they could grow legs and walk away if left unattended in certain areas, but that’s true of any equipment of value or interest that is used in the field.

Let me know if you use PowerFlares or if you plan to – I’d love to hear what other people think about them.

Culture Change and Digital Technology: The NYPD under Commissioner William Bratton, 2014-2016

An insightful look into police use of digital technology – Big thanks to Susan Crawford for allowing me to be a part of it!

Culture Change and Digital Technology: The NYPD under Commissioner William Bratton, 2014-2016

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Police Body Cameras – No Cure for Criticism

Body-worn police cameras are a hot topic lately. Several highly-publicized incidents recently have led to a wave of anti-police protests and rhetoric.  In turn, jurisdictions have scrambled to implement use of the technology or to expand their existing programs.  Manufacturer orders have soared, with large cities that had been slow to adopt the cameras, like Los Angeles and New York, finally joining the ever-growing number of police agencies that use them.

The benefits for police are profound.  Body-worn cameras aid in officer safety, police and civilian accountability, and enhance evidence gathering and prosecutions – to name a few.  Sure, they come at a cost – both financial and logistical, but officers and department heads far and wide are enjoying these benefits.  For many, they are seen as a natural progression from other tools that have been commonplace for some time.  In-vehicle camera systems have aided law enforcement for decades.  A body-worn option is therefore a logical enhancement to an existing method.  While the newer technology confronts us with additional challenges like coordinating evidence retention, storage, backup, and security concerns, and policy changes – these challenges are far from insurmountable.

But what happens after the cameras are in widespread use? Those in public service are wise enough to understand that an enhanced view of police encounters will hardly pacify the harshest and loudest of police opponents.  Criticisms that once centered on why agencies were slow to use body-cams will only move toward any number of reasons that such cameras failed to tell the full story in favor of a particular agenda.  While the future of law enforcement is likely to involve more video technology, the future will also include a great deal of debate about its use.  Those who see the cameras as a boon for police accountability, for example, are at the same time wary of their intrusiveness on the public.  Thinking forward, it’s easy to imagine the questions that will continue to arise. At what point for example, will one camera be sufficient? How long before persistent critics suggest multiple viewing angles, or demand that camera activation be tied electronically to other officer actions, such as un-holstering a firearm, or using a Taser?  Police body cameras will hardly stymie the most vocal opponents.

Effective law enforcement will always include disagreements about police encounters with the public, and personal body camera footage will not likely diminish this.  Agencies should anticipate a substantial number of new questions and accusations related to body-cams.  Police leaders can mitigate this with careful research, policy planning, and collaboration with government and community partners at all levels.

Body-worn cameras certainly have enough positive attributes to warrant an agency’s careful and individual consideration.  However, given that a segment of the population will never be satisfied with the level of visibility and accountability they provide, jurisdictions must avoid knee-jerk reactions that effect body-worn video implementation and policy.  Lawmakers and police agencies need to prudently consider privacy concerns, policies regarding the availability of video recordings, and internal policies concerning their use (including related disciplinary matters).  Only then can we be reasonably confident that the adoption of this technology is being done with appropriate research and planning, rather than in an attempt to appease the inappeasable.

This post originally appeared on PoliceAcademyU.com