Cops armed with cameras meet with mixed reviews

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by Jared Dillingham

Bio | Email | Follow: @JaredDillingham

azfamily.com

Posted on April 16, 2013 at 11:06 AM

Updated Thursday, Apr 18 at 5:28 PM

MESA, Ariz.--- The Mesa Police Department is halfway through a yearlong high-tech experiment,
equipping officers with cameras. The cameras attach to glasses and record everything the officer sees, and hears. 

While some volunteered for the trial, others were recruited. Six months in, reaction is mixed to the Taser-made Axon Flex Cameras.

The officers have recorded 19,000 videos, which are used as evidence. With the press of a
button, they roll on almost all calls.

Videos released to 3TV show officers racing through streets and jumping over fences while
responding to calls. Several show officers using Tasers on uncooperative suspects. One video
shows a domestic-violence suspect spitting in an officer's face.  Another shows how
unpredictable suspects on bath salts can be.

"It's great audio and great video, but I would say, halfway in, we're still 50/50 as to how this
is going to work out in the long run," Mesa Police Chief Frank Milstead told 3TV.

Some officers say the cameras are uncomfortable. Many complain about the added administration
functions of logging, tagging and storing the videos at the end of their shifts.

"Some don't like the aspect of always being watched or having to record things that they're
doing," Officer Steve York told 3TV.   

York is a proponent of the camera technology.

"Nothing can put into words like watching a video. It's very tough to argue with video. There's
no better unbiased witness than video," York said.

Arizona State University is tracking officers' opinions through the year.

The latest research indicates some positive feedback.

 

  • 87 percent of officers believe the cameras help them create more accurate reports
  • 81 percent say officers are more caution when making decisions while wearing the cameras
  • 77 percent say officers act more professionally while wearing cameras

The ASU study finds, at least at this point in the trial, most officers are unhappy wearing
cameras.

  • 34 percent say the cameras should be adopted department-wide
  • 23 percent say it makes their job easier
  • 25 percent say the cameras are comfortable to wear

Each camera costs about $1,350. For the year trial, the Taser International subsidiary that
stores the videos is providing their services for free.

Responding to officer input, Taser developed a Smartphone app to help streamline the video
logging process.

The chief says officers cannot delete video and supervisors match recordings to calls to make
sure officers are hitting 'record.'

"It's instant replay for police work. It's no different from a sporting event or anything else
where people want to see exactly what happened," Milstead said.

Milstead will make a decision about the future of cameras at the Mesa Police Department after the
trial ends in October.

 

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