Law-enforcement technologyArizona police departments test shirt-worn, high-tech cameras

Published 26 November 2012

Two police departments in Arizona – Surprise and Peoria — are testing several brands of high-tech cameras that attach to an officer’s shirt; police in Mesa, Arizona used about fifty cameras for a 1-year study; the Phoenix Police Department plans on using the cameras full-time starting early next year; privacy and civil-liberties experts say the cameras can be used in a positive way, but that there needs to be a clear baseline of rules when it comes to how and when the cameras are used

Two police departments in Arizona – Surprise and Peoria — are testing several brands of high-tech cameras that attach to an officer’s shirt.

Police in Mesa, Arizona used about fifty cameras for a 1-year study. The Phoenix Police Department plans on using the cameras full-time starting early next year.

Some departments have decided against testing the cameras, but individual officers have purchased their own. The cameras are a useful tool for some officers as they can prevent citizens from making false accusations, such as harassment or excessive force, as well as help build cases against criminals, according to Surprise Police Commander John Poorte.

AZCentral reports that privacy and civil-liberties experts say the cameras can be used in a positive way, but that there needs to be a clear baseline of rules when it comes to how and when the cameras are used.  Surprise police officer John Washburn, who purchased his own camera, said that he feels safer when he uses the equipment. According to Washburn, if an officer’s methods or actions are questioned, the video would be valuable.

“If something goes down, it’s recorded,” Washburn told ArizonaCentral. “This tells you exactly how it is, exactly what went down, exactly what happened and who said what.”

The Surprise Police Department could purchase the equipment next year. Right now they are testing the Panasonic WV-TW310. The price of the device is unknown at this time and Surprise officials have not received an estimate.

The camera is about the size of a deck of cards and attaches to the officer’s shirt. Washburn, along with Sergeant Bert Anzini, have been testing other models as well.

Poorte said that the department plans to buy about forty cameras for the 129 officers, of which about eighty have regular contact with the public.

“Most of them are a lot smaller (than the Panasonic),” Washburn told AZCentral. “The bonus to the size of this one is the scope of which you can see. It’s 180 (degree) arc.”

“This one is probably the most durable of any one of them,” Washburn added. But “it’s also the largest of any of them, so it’s the most intrusive to you as a person doing your job.”

Poorte who oversees the criminal investigation unit, says the cameras can reduce the number of assaults on officers.

“It changes people’s attitude basically when they know they’re being recorded,” Poorte said. “It seems to calm a lot of situations down.”

Washburn feels the cameras can also record mistakes police are making and potentially make them better officers.

“It can help you, but also it can ultimately hurt you, too, if you do something you shouldn’t do or if you let your frustrations get the best of you.”

Alessandra Soler feels the cameras will not make a difference if the officers have control of when to turn the cameras on and off. “If officers are given too much discretion to decide when to turn the cameras on and off, officers who plan to be abusive or use excessive force could simply turn the camera off,” Soler told AZ Central.

Soler said she does support the use of the cameras as they will make confrontations between officers and citizens more respectful.

“It’s generally a good thing,” Soler said. “You want to be able to videotape police encounters.”

Pierce Murphy, a police ethicist and board member of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, said that there needs to be a written policy about when and how to use the cameras and also managers that will make sure officers are following those rules.

“There needs to be auditing of that,” Murphy told AZ Central. I think that’s really important.”

Murphy also feels there should be a protocol when it comes to how long a video is to be stored.

“I think it would be horrible if you had video, it got deleted and three months later” police investigators realized that the tape had important information about a suspect,” Murphy added.

“Police should also develop policies that protect the privacy of crime victims and exonerated suspects, and footage of victims and people who are no longer under suspicion should not be released to the public.”

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