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New Cop Kit: Taser's Head Cams

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The same company behind the Taser is increasingly marketing a head-mounted camera and software system that it says will boost transparency in law enforcement.

Taser International Inc.'s Axon Flex video system includes a small, cylindrical camera affixed to the side of a pair of glasses. The device stores hours of digital video from the perspective of a police officer. When docked to a computer, the unit can upload the data to a secure, subscription-based website called Evidence.com, where files can be tagged, viewed and shared.

While many companies are entering the market with new so-called on-body recording systems, Taser's Axon Flex stands out for its performance, as well as its ability to improve police work by increasing transparency from the field, according to Scott Greenwood, a civil rights attorney, who recently appeared in promotional video about the product.

"All of this is data that an officer is going to generate by wearing one of these systems is protected, can't be manipulated, can't be deleted intentionally by officers, and will be available for defense attorneys, prosecuting attorneys, civil rights advocates and police command staff for oversight purposes, and that's something that hasn't been available to any of us before," he said in the video.

The camera system sells for $499 apiece, while a monthly subscription to Evidence.com costs $9.95, according to the company's website. (The company also sells similar systems for other parts of the body and even one that mounts beneath the Taser stun gun.)

Taser, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., has already sold 50 Axon Flex units to the Mesa Police Department. Although several officers were initially reluctant to use the technology, they've since grown accustomed to it and now don't want to patrol without it, according to Sgt. Ryan Stokes, who coordinates the program for the department.

"Those same officers in the last week or two have come to me and said, 'Hey, if you take my camera away, I'm going to be upset,'" he said in the video.

The company is making the case to police and sheriff's departments that citizens with smart phones and other digital recording devices are already recording their officers on the street, according to Steve Tuttle, president of Taser. For example, the 2009 New Year's Day shooting of Oscar Grant III by a police officer in a train station in Oakland, Calif., was captured by multiple onlookers using personal recording devices.

"They're being recorded whether they like it or not," Tuttle said in the video. "All you do is take an iPhone off your hip and record these officers, or take a look at how many CCTV [closed-circuit television] cameras are up throughout the world ... The question is, 'Don't you want to be recorded from your own point of view?'"

Taser expects to have some 3,000 of the Axon Flex units in the field by the end of the year.

While there are legitimate privacy concerns over the use of the devices and the public's right to the video they record, the technology has the potential to help society, Greenwood said. "It's going to cut down on bad interactions between officers and the people they interact with," he said.

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