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San Jose police mount cameras on officers’ heads

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Grainy cell phone images are often used against cops accused of using excessive violence. Now, officers are being armed with their own cameras.

The so-called head cameras are the latest technology to come from TASER International Inc., makers of the stun guns popular with law enforcement.

“It’s like the helmet cam you’ve seen on X Games,” said San Jose police Officer William Pender, who demonstrated the camera on a recent afternoon.

Eighteen of San Jose’s more than 1,300 sworn officers have been trained to use the AXON head cameras as part of a free trial. Other departments are expected to be added to the program.

Experts say the head cameras could help catch officers behaving badly and clear those who are falsely accused so long as they are accompanied by police department policies requiring they be switched on during each encounter and not as an officer chooses.

“I think it will also make the officers very aware that their behavior is being documented, which could cut down on possible police excesses,” said Sam Walker, professor emeritus of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska, Omaha.

The device resembles a Bluetooth earpiece and is attached by a band that runs around the back of the officer’s head. It can be connected to an on-and-off button on the officer’s chest, and from there to a video screen on a holster. In San Jose, officers are required to switch on the cameras for even routine investigations, such as vehicle stops.

At the end of an officer’s shift, the device is placed in a docking station, where it recharges and its content is downloaded and stored on a secure server offsite. A three-year contract for the system for one officer that includes software and video storage costs $5,700, said Tom Smith, chairman of TASER.

“People have been using (this technology) against us for years, unfortunately only for the bad stuff,” Pender said. “So it’d be nice to show our view and our side of what’s going on.”