Forget dashcams, Salt Lake City police chief has faith in eyecams
The Salt Lake City police chief said Wednesday that he hopes to eventually replace the department's dashboard cameras with new light-weight ones that officers will wear at eye level.
"I think this is the way of the future," said Chief Chris Burbank during a presentation about the cameras at the city Main Library. "It is a technology that is coming very quickly."
But the department is still in the early stages of the transition, Burbank said.
The Taser AXON Flex on-officer system is a small, light-weight camera with 14 hours of a battery life that an officer clips to an item like a headband or sunglasses so it can record whatever that officer is seeing or doing.
Nationally, only about 2,000 units of the on-officer system are in the field, and Salt Lake City would be the first department in Utah to use the technology, said Rick Smith, Taser founder and CEO, who attended the presentation.
"It really improves our ability to be professional and document events as they occur," Burbank said. "Imagine being able to capture the emotion."
Smith said any use of force is inherently high risk and controversial.
He said there are often differing accounts of what led an officer to use force in a particular situation and equipping them with cameras will help with investigations and retroactive reviews of decisions that were made, he said.
"It holds everybody accountable," Smith said.
Burbank said the cameras will lead to more transparency and have already helped exonerate a Salt Lake City officer who was accused of behaving unprofessionally during a traffic stop.
He said the current dash-board cameras are really only beneficial for capturing interactions during traffic stops, but that many police department activities do not involve traffic stops, he said.
The cameras run continuously, but an officer is responsible for activating and deactivating the device. That means the department will have to set strict guidelines about camera use and making sure the cameras aren't being shut off, Burbank acknowledged.
Among the issues still needing to be worked out: funding for the cameras, which cost in the range of $1,000 to $1,200 each; policies and procedures for when the cameras should be used; privacy considerations for both officers and citizens; public access to video footage; and when cameras should be turned off.
Burbank eventually hopes to purchase up to 250 of the cameras so that every officer who interacts with the public has access to one.
"It certainly has the potential to make our officers more effective," he said, noting that department staff currently spend a lot of time investigating officer complaints. The cameras should help with that, and with reducing the time spent writing summaries of events because an officer can just refer to the video.
"I see tremendous advantage to mounting it [at the level of the eyes]," Burbank said.