For police, wearable cameras are the new blue

Police have long included cameras on the dashboards of cruisers to record events during traffic stops or other incidents. Now they are increasingly taking cameras with them on foot.

The Phoenix Police Department is the latest agency to test wearable cameras. The department, along with Arizona State University’s College of Public Programs, just received a $500,000 grant from the Justice Department to purchase 50 wearable video camera systems to be used in the city’s Maryvale precinct, according to an announcement by the city.

The city had tested an on-officer video camera program earlier this year in two of its other precincts as part of an effort to improve police relations with the community. City officials say the cameras help improve public trust because people know an officer’s actions are being recorded.

“This grant will allow us to further our department’s commitment to community-based policing while maintaining the public trust,” acting Police Chief Joe Yahner said in the city’s announcement.

Other cities and towns, from California to New England, have already joined the trend, not just for community relations but for gathering evidence and, in some cases, protecting police against claims of misconduct. Some police departments are replacing their dashboard-mounted cameras with the more versatile, and less expensive, wearable cameras, also know as body cams.

Oakland, Calif., tested using the cameras in the summer of 2010 — after officers had requested them as a way to counter complaints from residents — and now has given them to 350 officers, according to a report in the Seattle Times. Oakland’s example has prompted a Seattle councilman to push for a test in that city, the Times reported.

Oakland uses cameras made by Vievu, which makes cameras ranging in price from $10 to about $900 each. Oakland uses the high-end models, but police in Walls, Miss., (population 1,162), say they’ve had good results using the $10 models, according to a report in the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

Walls Police Chief Gary Boisseau told the Commercial Appeal that the cigarette-lighter-size cameras, which can be clipped onto clothing, have helped him see things on traffic stops that he might otherwise have missed.

Vievu says its devices are linked to a computer and, once linked, can only download video to that computer, so files from a lost or stolen camera can’t be downloaded to any other device. The company’s Veripatrol software applies a digital hash certificate to each video clip to establish that the video has not been altered.

Taser is another company that sells on-officer video systems, including a model that can be worn over the ear.

Police in some states, however, could have a legal hurdle to using the cameras. Washington state, for instance, is one of 12 that require two-party consent for audio recordings, the Seattle Times story said. Whether that requirement applies in the case of police cameras is being debated. Washington did amend its consent law in 2000 to allow recording from dashboard cameras, the Times reported.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.


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