Philly police will test attaching video cameras to cops

Officer wearing AXON Flex - Vertical 8"x11"
Officer wearing AXON Flex - Vertical 8"x11"
Posted: June 15, 2012

Smile, you could be on cop camera.

The AXON Flex on-officer camera, a new device from the makers of the Taser, has the potential to change the way society views policing — literally.

The small video camera mounts on an officer's glasses, hat or collar and captures every moment of audio and visual footage while a cop is at a scene. Philadelphia police are getting about a half dozen to test, said Commissioner Charles Ramsey.

With so many citizens equipped with smart phones who are more than happy to upload arrest videos to YouTube, the device could allow officers to show the entirety of an incident from their point of view, said Rick Smith, co-founder of Taser International.

"To have your own recording is the best weapon against allegations against you," he said.

The cameras cost about $1,000 per officer and Taser provides departments with free one-year access to Evidence.com, which departments can use to upload and store their videos.

Ramsey said the department will test Taser's cameras, but if there is interest in purchasing them, requests for proposals from other manufacturers would be sought.

"I see some benefits in terms of if there is a complaint that occurs at a later time you do have some very powerful video evidence as to what took place," he said. "The disadvantage is it's a pretty expensive proposition when you're talking about a department our size."

Another problem is that Pennsylvania's wiretap laws would prohibit audio recording, Ramsey said.

Local FOP president John McNesby said he won't even entertain the idea of on-officer cameras until the department addresses more pressing issues.

"We're 500 cops below where we should be, so I'd be totally against it until they hired those officers, repaired every police station and put decent cars on the street," McNesby said. "When they finished that, I'd be more than willing to discuss putting cameras on officers."

The Bay Area Rapid Transit police, which covers San Francisco's public-transportation system, has purchased 160 on-officer cameras with grant money. The cameras have not yet been rolled out, as the department is still finalizing a policy, said Officer Era Jenkins, BART police spokeswoman.

"It will create a new level of trust," she said. "You can't say you're hiding anything because we'll have it all right there."

What excites Smith most about the cameras is that they may be able to change the relationship between law-enforcement and communities.

"I see this as a game-changer that let's departments say, ‘We're going to show you what we're doing. We're going to turn the light on in the closet and show you there are no monsters in there,' " he said.

Ramsey said that while he sees benefits, there's nothing that beats interpersonal communication.

"I'm old school," he said. "I believe interaction on a positive level between people is what makes a difference, not because it's on videotape." n

Reach Stephanie Farr at farrs@phillynews.com or 215-854-4225. You can also follow her on Twitter @FarFarrAway and read her blog at PhillyConfidential.com.

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