ISU Police considers mounting cameras on officers’ weapons

Rebecca Carton

After months of proposing plans and waiting for a decision from the Iowa Board of Regents, the ISU Police will be able to carry firearms within a few months. The ISU Police, as well as Ames Police, have been looking into enhancements for their weapons once they get them.

The Pistol Cam, a product of Legend Technologies, is a small camera that attaches to a handgun. According to the product’s Web site, the Pistol Cam automatically turns on when an officer draws his gun and records up to 60 minutes of audio and video.

Jerry Stewart, director of public safety, said the Pistol Cam is an “intriguing” development.

“I think it could be an important enhancement if field testing shows it to be a valuable tool,” he said. “It’s probably too early to be able to determine at this point whether this technology is effective, but I’m interested in learning the results upon the conclusion of this experimental stage.”

Cmdr. Jim Robinson of the Ames Police was not familiar with the Pistol Cam, but had heard of other weapon enhancements, such as Taser Cams.

“I’ve heard of such a thing for Tasers, but not pistols,” he said. “That [the use of Taser Cams] has been discussed as an enhancement.”

Robinson said the agency has considered purchasing Taser Cams for a while, but opted not to due to budget issues.

“It’s a possibility sometime down the road,” Robinson said.

Stewart has also looked into Taser Cams but said the ISU Police will not be purchasing them in the near future.

“We have not purchased Tasers with video capability,” he said. “We are aware that they are relatively new on the market. We will likely examine that technology when it’s time to update our tasers.”

Robinson also said that, while the agency was investigating Taser Cams, a Pistol Cam may not be a necessary enhancement for the Ames Police at this time.

“It’s not an everyday occurrence that we draw a weapon within Ames, but there are exceptions to the rule,” he said.

Robinson also said that the cameras fitted to squad cars do an adequate job of providing the department video footage which assists in investigations of drunk driving and allegations of conduct unbecoming an officer.

“Each one of our cars is outfitted with video. It presents a clear picture to the court as to what the officer experiences,” he said.

Robinson also said he was also skeptical of how much the Pistol Cam would interfere with officers aiming and shooting ability, but did not count it out as an important tool for police.

“We have not discussed it within the agency,” he said. “Maybe agencies will look upon this for specialized task forces.”

Greg Caito, marketing director for Legend Technologies, said the Pistol Cam works with other police video equipment to give an accurate picture of what an officer encounters. He said the cameras would help provide evidence of officers using force “on foot patrol or out of range of dashboard cameras.”

“It really works in conjunction with other types of video. We believe it’s really important to have in an urban-type setting to find out what exactly happens,” he said.

Caito said that, in high-profile police shootings, officers sometimes need a clear record of what is going on. In the case of one shooting in New York, the officer involved was off-duty and did not have a record of what had happened.

“Had the Pistol Cam been on those weapons, we would have had a clear picture of the perpetrator,” he said.

Caito said that the Pistol Cam costs $695 including all the software. The device is “very simple” and also has a USB port so officers can download the video to a computer. The device is also encoded so that only certain people can access the video.

In regard to affecting an officer’s aim or shooting, Caito said this would not be an issue. He said many pistols already carry attachments for lasers or flashlights. The Pistol Cam integrates with both types of mounts.

“It’s six ounces, which is the size of any under-mount flashlight,” Caito said. “It does not throw off aim or shooting. It’s very small.”

Only two agencies in the U.S., both in upstate New York, have committed to using the Pistol Cam. Both the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and the Newburgh Police will begin using Pistol Cams in the next three months after state grants allow them to purchase the equipment.

Caito said that Legends Technology would be working closely with the departments in order to determine how extensively they will be used.

“We want to work with those leaders and officers. It’s a very cooperative engagement, and we want to continue that arrangement,” he said.

Caito believes the utility of the Pistol Cam is not limited to an urban or metropolitan setting. He said the Pistol Cam would also be a worthwhile investment in a campus setting as well.

“Given the hostile incidents in Virginia, I believe anyone that wants to have a document of the use of deadly force, whether a campus environment, or prison environment or police environment. I don’t envision this device being limited,” he said. “It would have been nice to have a record of something that happened in that shooting.”

Stewart said that, if the Pistol Cam proves to be an influential enhancement, many agencies, including the ISU Police, should look into using them in the future.

“The application would not be specific to type of environment. If proven to be effective, then it should be explored by all agencies,” he said.

Caito said that, while the Pistol Cam would be a worthwhile investment for any type of law enforcement, ultimately it’s up to the community to decide.

“There’s amazing things developing where people are chatting about it. It’s met quite a debate,” he said. “A lot of people are for it, and some people are against it. The community and its leaders have to decide what’s right. That’s who makes the decision at the end of the day.”