San Jose police will be first to use ear-mounted cameras to record arrests


San Jose Mercury News

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The San Jose Police Department will be the first law enforcement agency in the country to use new ear-mounted video and audio recorders on the job this month, and police say they will provide a new window into arrests and other situations.

The portable AXON cameras, made by Taser International, are expected to be given to 72 San Jose officers in late November or early December, police said. The cameras can record an officer's point of view for up to 10 1/2 hours, and police say the devices will help officers write more accurate reports and aid officers if their actions are called in to question.

"It's been in the works for the past year, and this will be a one-year pilot to see if these things work out," said San Jose Police spokesman Jermaine Thomas.

Officers in patrol cars, on bikes and on the street could be wearing the cameras in the next few weeks, which look similar to Bluetooth devices. It is unclear whether the cameras would record continually or could be turned on and off at the discretion of the officer.

The devices can be set to record just audio or just video, and the digital recordings can be played back in the field or downloaded on to a computer. If the pilot program is successful, Thomas said, more officers could wear the units. They are waterproof and designed to stay on an officer during a struggle, Taser representatives said.

In light of some high-profile incidents in San Jose involving alleged police misconduct captured on cell phone cameras, some police critics say they support the new cameras to offer a fuller perspective of incidents.

San Jose Police Chief Rob Davis has long been interested in technological advances that can aid law enforcement, such as the recently launched CrimeReports.com Web site that plots locations and crime incidents in the city.

A representative from the office of San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed said the camera's recordings would fall under the same rules as 911 tapes in the city, which can be requested but often are not released by police.

"That would protect the privacy rights of the person in the incident and folks on the scene, similar to 911 tapes," said Michelle McGurk, a spokeswoman for the mayor's office.

As for the policy of turning the recordings on and off, McGurk said Davis would set those rules. Many cities including San Jose already have ATM cameras and other security cameras in downtown areas that have been used in legal proceedings. In other cities, such as Chicago, police have used cameras mounted on street corners to record incidents. It is unclear how much the devices cost per unit.

Copyright 2009 San Jose Mercury News

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