Salt Lake City Police Dept. Makes The Move To 'Always-On' Eyecams

from the an-idea-with-potential,-tempered-by-an-enormous-downside dept

In the beginning, there were dashcams. Cops utilized these to provide Fox’s primetime programmers with glorious footage of high speed pursuits and the occasional drunk shirtless man falling down. It provided a record of traffic stops and PIT maneuvers, but the downside was that it failed to capture anything out of range of the windshield. Sometimes, given inter-departmental meddling, the footage showed nothing at all or ceased to exist.

Then, suddenly, everyone had a camera. Nearly every citizen with a cell phone was able to shoot credible (if shaky) footage of law enforcement events as they unfolded, rather than how they were “recalled” during depositions and courtroom appearances. This turn of events caused some consternation among some members of the law enforcement community, who felt that recorded observation was a one-way street and that street had the PD’s name all over it. While it was tougher to make unwanted footage cease to exist, it was not altogether impossible.

Now, the next wave of law enforcement-related camera technology is being put into use: always-on “eyecam.” Salt Lake City is rolling out a new line of eye accessories for its force, becoming the first police department in the state to do so.

The Taser AXON Flex on-officer system is a small, light-weight camera with 14 hours of a battery life that an officer clips to an item like a headband or sunglasses so it can record whatever that officer is seeing or doing.

Nationally, only about 2,000 units of the on-officer system are in the field, and Salt Lake City would be the first department in Utah to use the technology, said Rick Smith, Taser founder and CEO, who attended the presentation.

As the use of these cameras becomes more widespread, hearing a police officer offer to “fire up the Taser” may no longer cause certain citizens to instinctively curl into the fetal position. In fact, there’s an (admittedly small) chance that these new cameras will keep unnecessary force to a minimum and provide useful documentation for use in investigations, court cases, etc.

“It really improves our ability to be professional and document events as they occur,” (Police Chief Chris) Burbank said. “Imagine being able to capture the emotion.”

Smith said any use of force is inherently high risk and controversial.

He said there are often differing accounts of what led an officer to use force in a particular situation and equipping them with cameras will help with investigations and retroactive reviews of decisions that were made, he said.

“It holds everybody accountable,” Smith said.

More transparency is a good idea, but much like any recording device, it’s only as trustworthy as its operator — and those who control use of the footage. Burbank mentions that the camera has already cleared a Salt Lake City officer accused of “behaving unprofessionally” at a traffic stop. This is all well and good, but there needs to be a serious effort made to curb the tendency to turn an “always-on” camera into a very selective accomplice.

The cameras run continuously, but an officer is responsible for activating and deactivating the device. That means the department will have to set strict guidelines about camera use and making sure the cameras aren’t being shut off, Burbank acknowledged.

The first step might be to change “guidelines” to “rules,” so there are no grey areas surrounding the specifics of camera usage. This is not to say there’s little potential for an upside, though. In fact, more law enforcement agencies should look into equipping themselves with something like this, with the caveat being that the resulting footage is treated as an “impartial record” rather than “police property.” Leaving the on/off switch in control of the officer wearing the camera is both unavoidable and prone to abuse by those who would rather hide certain actions and activities. And as long as law enforcement members are interacting with the public using “always-on” cameras, there really can’t be any further complaints about citizens responding in kind. The camera may be an impartial observer, but the operator very rarely is. If transparency is Burbank’s ultimate aim, let’s hope the guideline process is opened up for public comment.

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Comments on “Salt Lake City Police Dept. Makes The Move To 'Always-On' Eyecams”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Not completely unworkable though. Remove the exageration and we are getting somewhere.

If there is no exact recording it is necessary to put a lot more weight on the statements. That is natural. If there is a complaint about what happens and the camera is off, let it stay in the record as a potential offense. Complaints are complaints and if it is registered on the rep-sheet for the cop, sooner or later, he will get harrassed by IA. It is not a solution, but a pretty good incentive for the cops to follow procedure.

Fear of punishment is a far better incentive to behave nicely than the punishment itself!

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“cops are innocent until proven guilty.”

Tony Bologna.

Even after you prove they lied, they are still innocent.
We expect them to be held to the highest standards, and we repeatedly accept them failing to do so.

If an officer “forgot” to turn on the recorder, it is just as possible his memory of the incident might contain facts he “forgot” as well.

Many claims of police brutality are swept under the rug by their pals, review boards, even courts feeling a cop would not lie. I merely posit the idea that if he forgot to turn on his camera, that his recollection be questioned as much as the victims rather than he is a cop he is honest we trust him more.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Not sure I’d go quite that far, but perhaps make it so that should the camera be left off, any statement by an officer is treated as a claim without evidence, and would thereby be dismissed should the other party present a conflicting statement.

That would provide them with incentive to keep it on, without necessarily punishing them too much should they forget(though honestly, with a battery life that long, they should just have it mandatory that the things are turned on as soon as they go on duty, and turned off when they go off duty, and only every turned off while on duty when they hit the restroom.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Simple solution… if they “forget” to turn the camera on assume everything claimed against the officer as fact.
I think a better way of putting it might be: They aren’t acting as an officer of the law until the camera is turned on. Camera off = normal citizen, and no “police protections” (such as the ability to kill innocent civilians with impunity if done during a high speed chase).

TheLoot (profile) says:

Helps keep BOTH parties honest.

“…but much like any recording device, it’s only as trustworthy as its operator…”

“…prone to abuse by those who would rather hide certain actions and activities.”

“The camera may be an impartial observer, but the operator very rarely is.”

Three phrases you never hear when it’s a citizen’s video being used against officers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Oh come on...

The way this is written, it seems like it’s a no-win situation for the cops. In this case, they attempt to be more transparent, and then the opinion is that the officer has the ability to turn the cam off so this technology is fallible.

Do you really want to see a cop taking a leak?

I see this as a positive attempt from a department who’s fellows have been getting a mostly negative review from the media to improve themselves, and all we can say is that “it might be abused”.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Oh come on...

Well, in fairness, the police haven’t done a whole lot to dispel such skepticism. If this is a step in that direction, then it’s great for all concerned. However, historically, dirty cops will find ways around it and it isn’t out of bounds to proactively consider what those workaraounds might be.

Do you really want to see a cop taking a leak?

It depends on who they’re taking a leak on.

Michael Long (profile) says:

This relates to the ban most hospitals have against recording visits and surgeries. Part of it is related to HIPA and patient privacy issues, but mostly it’s about ensuring that there are no recordings of any mistakes a doctor might make being used against them in a lawsuit.

Of course, the flip side to this is a good recording could also save them from a malpractice lawsuit, but they don’t see it that way.

Which tends to bring one to the viewpoint that most malpractice lawsuits are justified…

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Part of it is related to HIPA and patient privacy issues

My wife deal with HIPA compliance in a major hospital, and let me assure you that such bans are entirely about such compliance.

Hospital legal staffs would much prefer that every patient interaction be recorded in great detail. The number of unjustified claims against hospitals outweighs the number of justified ones, and the hospital would be better off legally and financially if it were very easy to show the difference.

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