As San Jose, Calif., police officer Bill Pender suits up for his shift, he straps on his usual pistol, baton and radio. But now, there's a new tool in his arsenal: a camera he wears over his ear that can record everything he sees and hears.
"This is actually our point of view," Pender said. "This clearly puts you in the officer's shoes."
San Jose is the first major city police force to test the "Axon" cameras, issuing them to eighteen officers.
"To me, it's a matter of looking forward and saying, 'Are we taking advantage of the technology that exists to help us do our job better?'" said Rob Davis, San Jose's police chief.
It's department policy to turn the camera on before every call, even if it's a routine traffic stop. Officers have discretion in turning off the camera when it comes to videotaping a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault.
The cameras have already proven beneficial in other places. In Fort Smith, Ark., officer Brandon Davis was wearing one of the cameras when he responded to a call of a domestic disturbance Nov. 11, 2009. On the tape, Davis can be heard repeatedly telling the suspect to drop his gun. Davis later fired his own gun, killing the suspect. Attorneys used the video from the camera to clear Davis of any wrongdoing.
The officers themselves cannot erase or edit the video, and at the end of their shifts, the officers download the video to an offsite server where it is stored and later pulled for evidence if necessary.
For years, the public has videotaped police caught in violent confrontations, most notably, the beating of Rodney King. Watchdog groups now hope the cops' own cameras will discourage the use of excessive force. Police see the advantages as well.
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"This time we'll be able to show the public the full version of what happens and they'll understand why we had to take an action that we did," said San Jose police officer Bill Pender.
Police say that over time the cameras will become as commonplace as any other piece of equipment officers carry around on a daily basis.