“Don’t Tase Me Bro,” the YouTube video of University of Florida student Andrew Meyer getting tased by campus police spread across the Internet as fast as an electric shock through the nervous system. While many people who saw the video think Meyer got what he deserved, how would they feel if there weren’t a video to watch? What if they had just read the headline: “Kerry Heckler Tased By University Police”? TASER International wants to take the guesswork out of what goes down between police officers and their tased suspects. Rather than leave it up to chance when an officer is filmed or not, they’ve made sure everyone’s covered by putting a camera right on the Taser itself. The TASER CAM is part of a growing number of monitoring technologies that are being fitted to police cars, equipment, even uniforms to record everything that happens during an officer's shift. The cameras augment their ability to keep an eye on both their public and themselves.
About the size of a cigar stub, the TASER CAM is built into a battery pack that normally attaches to the Taser and weighs just 3 ounces. It records both audio and 10 fps, black and white video. It can even record in zero light conditions due to an infrared illuminator. Its flash memory can store about an hour and a half of video during a shift. A docking station is then used to transfer the video to a local computer, from which it ultimately is transferred to TASER’s cloud-computing system. The videos can then be accessed from anywhere in the world – with the proper clearance, of course. One limitation of the TASER CAM is a limitation that any officer with a recording device is going to want to address. Recordings don't begin until the Taser is drawn. That's a problem if the whole point of recording the encounter is to show that using the taser was justified. If we hadn’t seen Meyer screaming into the microphone or trying to get away from the police and only saw him pinned down as the Taser closed in for the stun we might have drawn a very different impression. Systems like TASER's AXON Flex, which is a point-of-view video system that can be worn on sunglasses, collar, or left on a cruiser dashboard are probably more useful in this respect as they're triggered manually.
There are certainly videos out there that raise more doubt about officers’ actions rather than clear them up. The three and half minute video of Baltimore police officer Salvatore Rivieri berating a 14-year old skateboarder cost Rivieri his job. He tried to appeal the firing, arguing that the video didn’t show the teenager’s initial disrespect nor the two shaking hands and Rivieri giving the teen his skateboard back. But the police department still felt compelled to fire him. Perhaps that had something to do with the hundreds of thousands of people who’d viewed the YouTube video. If officers have the cameras, they will be in control of what gets recorded – or at least have their own version. But like all evidence, the video evidence will only be useful if it can be trusted. This is why some are concerned about the videos being stored on TASER’s cloud that’s stored on Amazon.com’s cloud storage service. As one of TASER’s competitors told the New York Times, police agencies might balk at outsourcing their video evidence departments. Some safeguards are in place, however. The video cannot be deleted while it’s stored on the taser. And while there is the potential to delete or edit videos stored on the cloud, something the ACLU is concerned about, TASER’s chain-of-custody feature means that who views the videos and what they do with them will be documented.
Police departments are increasingly trying to make their lives easier through technology. Cameras have already been mounted on some 55,000 tasers, and police cars already equipped with cameras that can scan 10,000 license plates per hour and automatically run them against police and FBI records. And it's only a matter of time before facial recognition scanners are added to their monitoring capabilities.
Whether you’re an officer or a suspect, being on camera makes you think twice about your actions. Of course, some people won’t be aware they’re being taped and others won’t care. Whatever the case, we’re sure to see them on YouTube soon enough.
[image credits: Taser International] images: Taser International