Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced this week that the city has signed a contract to buy 800 TASER International Axon body cameras, using $1.5 million raised from private sources. In addition, the city plans to buy and deploy another 6,200 body cameras this coming year.
“Out on the street, things aren’t always clear cut,” Mayor Garcetti said in a December 16 statement to the press. “These cameras will help law enforcement and the public alike find the truth — and truth is essential to the trust between the LAPD and the community, which has been a key factor in lowering crime to record lows.”
TASER is one of the top four vendors in the body camera market, and the company’s Axon cameras are in service with numerous police departments, including San Francisco and San Diego. Axon has a 130-degree lens with a 640 x 480 resolution and a 14-hour battery life. Incidents are digitally recorded on the camera and then uploaded to a cloud-based service called Evidence.com. That’s the main selling point for Axon, TASER CEO Rick Smith says—it relieves police officers and departments of having to upload all this footage themselves.
Following the Ferguson grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the Aug. 9 killing of Mike Brown, President Obama promised that the federal government would set aside $75 million in matching funds to help law enforcement agencies purchase body 50,000 cameras.
Initially, police unions were opposed to body cameras as being too invasive, but in recent years, and especially after Ferguson, some have been coming around. In Los Angeles, the representative organization for rank-and-file cops has stated that it doesn’t object to cameras. Tyler Izen, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, noted in a December 16 statement that the devices “will be useful in defending our officers against false allegations.”
Still, some have wondered if videotaping cops will make a difference, especially following a Staten Island jury’s decision not to indict officers involved in the recorded choking death of Eric Garner. Without referring to specific cases, Smith notes that psychological studies have shown that even posters depicting watching eyes have an effect on people. Cops will also behave differently, he contends, if they know from the get-go that they are being videotaped as opposed to already “being in a melee and someone whipping at a cellphone.”
What if cops forget to turn on their cameras, or deliberately turn them off? TASER plans next year to roll out Axon Signal, a system that would automatically “turn the camera on for the officer when he puts the lights on in his car or when he pulls his Taser out of his holster or” following “a whole of bunch of [other] wireless triggers.”
Of course, that won’t stop an officer from turning off his camera, but such an action wouldn’t look too good for the cop, Smith says. Besides, no system is foolproof.