Photo by Loretta Yerian.
WILLIAMS, Ariz. — When police officers draw their weapons, they must decide within seconds how they’re going to use that weapon. It’s a judgement call and a huge responsibility.
Which is why a handful of police departments have decided to test gun mounted cameras to be used by law enforcement.
Williams Police Department (WPD) is one agency testing the technology.
“We have a split second to decide whether we’re going to take someone’s life — pull that trigger, which we’re not trying to kill someone but chances are when you shoot center mass — that’s what you’re taught, chances are you’re not going to survive,” said Lieutenant Darrell Hixson with the WPD. “We have a split second to make that decision. So, body cameras — I’m all for them. We’re going to make mistakes, let the public see them.”
Hixson believes having cameras mounted on officers’ pistols could be beneficial to law enforcement and said WPD is qualified to test the cameras.
“We are qualified to go to the range. We are qualified to see how it works because the device is either going to hold up and perform or it’s not going to,” he said. “Now in the real world, if we have them (gun mounted cameras), do I think we’re going to have the chance of a shooting like in Las Vegas, Phoenix or Dallas? No, because that’s not this town, but if we have one wouldn’t the town like to know that we were justified and there won’t be a 2.3 million dollar lawsuit? Sure. Would they like to know we were trained well and didn’t shoot somebody accidentally or wouldn’t we like to know that we have a bad officer? I mean it goes both ways.”
In November, two officers at WPD will test the cameras during a 30 day pilot program. The cameras will not be used by officers while they are on-duty.
“I am not going to carry it on duty. It’s just going to be for us to test it,” Hixson said.
If these cameras are used by the department in the future, Hixson said they would be used in addition to body cameras. All officers at WPD currently wear body cameras.
The cameras are distributed by Viridian® Weapon Technologies, which, according to its website, is devoted to applying cutting-edge technology to design compact, powerful self-defense products for civilian, military and law enforcement markets.
Designed for law enforcement, FACT™ (Fast Access Camera Technology) have INSTANT-ON ® activation, which automatically captures HD video and audio the instant a weapon is drawn from its holster.
Williams PD will test the camera by putting it through a variety of trials on the shooting range. Hixson said officers testing it will be ‘doing different things with it,’ including seeing how it performs in the weather and how it holds up after the gun is fired repeatedly. Officers will then write reports on the results and submit these results back to Viridian.
“(We’re asking) is it going to be dependable?” Hixson stated.
Hixson, who may be one of two officers testing the cameras for the department, has an extensive history in law enforcement, including 20 years working in Las Vegas and 16 years working in SWAT. While Williams may not use their weapons as often as larger cities, Hixson said Williams’ officers are just as qualified to test the technology.
“It sounds funny because it’s the little Williams Police Department,” he said. “But don’t judge it. We’re testing it as well as any other department.”
Additionally, Hixson said the camera could potentially portray a better visual than body cameras or at the very least show a more complete picture of an incident.
“This camera is going to show everything. It’s not going to be blocked. It’s going to be on the weapon that’s pointed at the person,” he said, adding officers and the public could then later make judgement calls on whether the officer was justified in using his gun.
“Is the officer justified in taking his gun out?” Hixon asked. “Is the officer justified in pointing it at that person and if he pulls the trigger, is the officer justified in pulling the trigger? Let’s let the camera tell the story along with the officer and if he’s right, the cameras going to be right and if he’s wrong, the cameras going to be right.”
Cameras are equipped with audio. They cannot be turned on and off unless the pistol is put back in the holster. Additionally, the camera should produce less data than body cameras and is easier for police departments to store and retain footage.