Gun Cameras Might be the Next Body Cameras as Police Try Them Out
Gun cameras – mounted on officers' weapons instead of their bodies – are the latest recording technology some police departments are considering adding to their force, on the premise that they can offer a less obstructed view during shootings as well as cost savings.
Manufacturers of the cameras that attach to the weapons say they can provide recordings of officer-involved shootings unobstructed by officers' arms, walls and other objects, which can occur with body cameras.
Also unlike body cameras – which a vast majority of police departments have or are experimenting with and generally are activated at the beginning of any encounter – gun cameras are being designed to record automatically when officers pull the weapons from their holsters.
For the St. Petersburg Police Department in Florida, with 562 officers, body cameras are cost prohibitive due to high storage costs, Yolanda Fernandez, a spokeswoman for the department, told Newsweek.
"So something like gun-activated cameras would definitely cut back on that and it would still provide the public with the crucial moments that people are concerned about," she said.
The St. Petersburg Police Department is among a handful of law enforcement agencies testing out a gun camera pilot program by Minneapolis-based Viridian Weapons Technologies over the next couple of weeks.
A traffic stop simulation that Viridian filmed with the West Hennepin Public Safety Department in Maple Plain, Minnesota, shows a patrol car dash cam recording an officer approaching a stopped vehicle. When the officer makes contact with the driver and sees a weapon inside, the officer pulls out his weapon, immediately activating the camera that records the driver grabbing the firearm and pointing it directly at the officer, followed by the sound of a gunshot.
"You can see the orders the officer is giving to the driver and it's clear audio and video. No question as to what's going on in the car," Sgt. Rick Denneson of the West Hennepin Public Safety Department, which has 10 officers covering 8,000 residents and will participate in the pilot, told Newsweek.
Viridian Weapon Technologies plans to sell gun cameras by the end of the year for about $500 each, with no recurring fee, the company's president and CEO Brian Hedeen said.
"I think it is a game changer for knowing what really happened during an officer-involved shooting," he said to Newsweek.
But civil rights groups are concerned that gun cameras aren't comprehensive enough to capture what happens in officer-involved shootings and situations – particularly because they cut out moments and context leading up to the escalation.
"I think most communities are going to want body cameras, not gun cameras, because police fortunately draw they guns very rarely," Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union's speech, privacy and technology project, said to Newsweek.
Ngozi Ndulue, senior director of criminal justice programs for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, agreed that gun cameras should not serve as a substitute for body cameras but told Newsweek that "they could be an important addition to other forms of recordings."
Jessica Kwong. Gun Cameras Might be the Next Body Cameras as Police Try Them Out. newsweek.com, October 2017.