Mesa police testing mini-cameras

October 11, 2012

"Smile, you’re on Candid Camera" has taken on a whole new meaning with a gadget now being used by some police departments across the country. They’re mini-cameras that can be attached to a police officer’s body. One Arizona police department recently started a pilot project with the new technology and says it’s already changing how they do business.

on-officer camera Mesa Police Department Officer Justin Riding demonstrates the AXON Flex On-Officer Camera. He is one of 50 officers testing the camera. (Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez - KJZZ)

Sgt. Tony Landato Mesa Police Department Stg. Tony Landato says the mini-cameras are about transparency. (Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez - KJZZ)

NADINE ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: This sound is from a video recording made by a Mesa Police Officer in early September. He apprehended a man suspected of hijacking a car. The video shows the officer with his pistol drawn while the suspect heeds the officer’s command. It’s a scene right out of the reality show COPS. Watching the video makes it feel like you’re right there, at the scene. The camera is called the AXON Flex On-Officer Body Camera - an audio-video digital recording device that captures everything from the officer’s point of view.

TONY LANDATO: You can basically put a camera on and, recording, walk out, do your job and just drop off a disk at the end of the day and say 'that’s what I did.'

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: Tony Landato is a Sergeant with the Mesa Police Department. He says the department decided to test the mini-cams on 50 officers for the next year. Their plan is to arm the more than 300 officers on the force with it.

LANDATO: Transparency, I think, is what we’re looking at. It’s just, this is what your officers are doing, this is what your tax dollars are paying for. This is how we are going about the business of securing you community that you live in.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: This new tool is produced by an Arizona-based company, Taser International-- the same company the created the Taser stun gun. The mini-camera is the size of a thick marking pen. Officers attach it to their body -- on a helmet, shirt collar, shoulder strap or eye glasses. The camera is attached with a wire to a 12-hour battery pack the size of a cigarette box –which fits into a shirt or vest pocket. The officer triggers the record button the moment they respond to an altercation, a call, or make a traffic stop. The camera can record up to 12 hours of color video. The footage is logged at the end of the day and stored electronically in a cloud evidence storage system managed by the manufacturer of the device. The footage cannot be altered or deleted.

JUSTIN READY: We’re just at a point right now where this technology is taking off.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: Justin Ready is a professor at Arizona State University School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. He’s currently conducting a study on the police use of mini video cameras in police departments.

READY: In a very short period of time, within 10 to 15 years, most major departments will require first responders to wear this technology.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: Thirty eight law enforcement agencies across the country are now using the AXON Flex mini cameras, including Ft. Worth, Texas; Socorro County in New Mexico, and in California, San Bernardino County, Modesto and Coronado police departments. Ready says police officers equipped with video cameras could help reduce the number of lawsuit cases against the police department. More importantly, he says, it can help prosecute difficult criminal cases, like domestic violence. It can even help avoid a confrontation between a citizen and a police officer.

READY: When officers go into some kind of encounter with a citizen, if they have to make the conscious effort to press this button and activate the technology, it might make them kind of pause for a second and think very carefully about their actions.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ:  Even the ACLU in Phoenix, which has a long record of racial profiling cases against law enforcement agencies in Arizona, welcomes the use of mini-cameras. The organization says these recording devices can also be a great tool for citizens to hold police officers accountable.