First there were dashboard cameras. Now, get ready for uniform cameras.
Police departments across the country are starting to have officers wear tiny cameras that record an officer's-eye view. The little cameras attached to the front of police officers' uniforms are already familiar to those who watch the National Geographic show "Wild Justice" -- which follows California wildlife officers -- but could now start making their way to a department near you.
NPR reports that law enforcement administration see use for the cameras to help provide visual evidence in cases, including those that include accusations of police brutality, and add another measure to officer safety. According to NPR, cities like Cincinnati and Oakland, Calif., have already begun using the cameras, in addition to some small jurisdictions, and Seattle City Council member Bruce Harrell is trying to get them added to the budget for next year:
He says he hopes the result will be a more complete view of police encounters with the public, as well as better behavior across the board.
"People behave differently when they are on camera," Harrell says. "So these cameras I believe can restore trust."
Harrell's enthusiasm is not shared by Sgt. Rich O'Neill, president of the Seattle Police Officers' Guild. O'Neill doesn't like the fact that many of the departments that have adopted wearable cameras have given their officers little discretion: They're required to record every contact with the public, and can't stop recording until it's over — even if a citizen asks them to.
Last month, the Denver Post reported that its city would be added to the growing list of those with law enforcement wearing cameras. It is in the thick of a 60-day pilot program testing use of the cameras now:
"Based on concerns raised about the pattern of abuse in our law enforcement community, this is a great first step," Ulibarri said of the body cameras.
At least during the trial period, the officers testing the technology will decide when to activate their cameras. If police adopt the devices, protocols could be designed that would remove discretion from officers and specify when they must turn on their camera.
Even though this technology is meant to provide a more complete picture of crime situations, it is not without its privacy concerns. The Denver Post continues:
"This sort of recording is a double-edged sword," said John Verdi, senior counsel at the Washington, D.C.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center. "They can be valuable law enforcement tools and also demonstrate when and how police are complying or not complying with appropriate procedures. At the same time, the recordings made in the course of everyday (duty) are not the sort of things you want available to the public, and this does open them up to the public."
The Denver Post notes that VIEVU has supplied more than 1,000 police departments with this equipment so far. According to the VIEVU website, the cameras are designed for those who "need to video document their action." The device also includes a feature that locks the device for security purposes if it is lost or stolen. There are examples that show the VIEVU perspective while being worn by police officers here.
You can see a version of the uniform camera in action in this clip from "Wild Justice," which has several shots taken from the officer's perspective and at 2:56 shows cameras mounted on their shoulders: (Note: It's a different type of camera than the VIEVU)