Mesa police officers will soon start using tiny cameras that are mounted on eyeglasses, hats or shirts and make audio and video recordings of everything from routine calls to life-or-death situations.
The Arizona Republic reports that police agencies nationwide view the recordings as a new layer of evidence that could be shown to juries during criminal trials or used to prove or disprove complaints about police conduct.
Because the original tape cannot be altered, police say the Axon Flex cameras may counter videos taken with smartphones that sometimes capture only a small portion of an incident and convey a distorted view of what happened.
Mesa plans to start using 50 cameras in October after training sessions. Lake Havasu City police have 20, and four other Arizona police agencies are testing them.
Officers tag the videos with key words to indicate the type of incident and then save them in a data bank.
“It changes everybody’s behavior,” said Capt. Joe Fiumara of the Lake Havasu City Police Department. “It’s natural. You are on film, you act differently.”
Police agencies in Texas, Colorado, California and Pennsylvania are either buying or testing officer-mounted camera systems, citing the public’s desire for transparency and the need to protect themselves from lawsuits and Internal Affairs complaints.
Eleven officers in Mesa’s Red Mountain District have been testing the cameras for about two weeks.
The cameras cost about $950 each, plus charges for digital storage in a data bank, according to the system’s maker, Taser International.
Sgt. Tony Landato, a Mesa police spokesman, said the video cannot be enhanced or edited in any way. It also automatically logs the names of everyone who views it, a requirement for court purposes.
The recordings also will allow police to quickly investigate complaints about officer conduct.
Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, said camera systems have potential to improve accountability but could also violate civil rights if misused.
“I think it has the potential to be a very effective check against police abuse,” he said.
But it would defeat the purpose if an officer were to turn off the camera before any bad behavior, Stanley said.