Starting today, a handful of San Jose police officers will spend three months sporting a sophisticated audio-video recording device that Chief of Police Rob Davis believes is “the way of the future,” dramatically changing the culture of law enforcement. Eighteen officers will wear the AXON devices as part of a pilot program with Taser, the developer. These primarily consist of a headset that resembles a Bluetooth earpiece with an accompanying control device worn on
the chest like a radio. AXON stands for “Autonomous Extended On-Officer Network,” according to Taser. The small digital camera perches above an officer’s left ear and can record surprisingly high-quality video and sound with the touch of a button. The participating officers are required to activate the recording any time they instigate enforcement measures with a member of the public, Davis said. The devices let viewers observe a situation through the eyes of a responding officer, and give police a documented account of crimes, witnesses and an officer’s actions in the field. At a news conference to announce the program this afternoon, an enthusiastic Davis listed the ways these devices can help police and the public. The AXON headsets can produce “best evidence,” Davis said. A photo capture of a suspect at large is far more effective than a simple physical description. Footage of a suspect committing a crime can also become valuable evidence for prosecutors. Davis said the department has developed new policies to align the cameras’ use with existing privacy laws. When asked if witnesses or others might be less inclined to talk to officers if they are recorded, Davis said that early interactions have gone well. “They just think it’s an earpiece,” he said. The recordings are uploaded at the end of each shift, but can also be viewed by the officer during his shift, or live by someone at headquarters. For example, if a tactical officer is entering a dangerous situation, someone watching live footage in an office can communicate updates or observations to the officer through the headset. And of course, recording officers’ interactions with citizens can identify any inappropriate or questionable police behavior – a volatile topic in San Jose, where some minority residents have criticized police for using excessive force. Davis said such footage allows the department to change and evaluate its policies, and will save internal affairs investigators hours of time interviewing witnesses, or pursuing complaints that ultimately boil down to one person’s word against another’s. Officers are not able to delete footage recorded on their devices, according to Davis. “It really reduces the amount of time we spend determining if an officer did something wrong, or didn’t,” he said. Davis said he was confident the cameras will attest that “the overwhelming majority of our officers are top-notch.” The city is not paying for the devices, in return for the police department’s input on the AXON’s design and functionality. Davis said officers in the patrol and tactical divisions, along with the downtown services detail, will wear the devices for at least three months, then the city will evaluate how to continue. Davis said the introduction of digital data will bring sweeping changes to law enforcement across the nation, similar to the introduction of patrol cars, police radios and 911 in past eras. “I’m preaching to the choir here in Silicon Valley. I don’t see how this is anything but revolutionary,” he said. The headsets themselves are reasonably comfortable, according to Officer Steve Fries. Officers are still trying to figure out how to wear them with sunglasses, he said. Motorcycle officers will have helmets with built-in cameras. Fries said the idea of a camera documenting his every move and decision for others to dissect doesn’t bother him. “We’re out in public anyway,” he said.
San Jose police Officer Steve Fries, San Jose police Chief of Police Rob Davis, AXON camera, Autonomous Extended On-Officer Network, Taser, AXON headsets,