Police officers are exonerated 93 percent of the time in cases where video evidence is available, one study says.
By Marin Perez PoliceOne News Editor
The physical dangers and emotional stress of having to discharge your firearm are taxing enough, but sometimes the aftermath can be even more stressful. The investigation process can get bogged down in conflicting witness testimony, and media coverage can create a firestorm that tears communities and departments apart.
The new – and very small – PistolCam hopes to alleviate these problems by offering a unique perspective on officer-involved shootings — the gun’s.
“PistolCam is a miniature camera that mounts under the barrel of almost any firearm,” said PistolCam spokesman Bill DeProspo. “It can eliminate doubt in these shooting incidents because you’ll have most, if not all of what transpired on camera.”
A PistolCam mounts onto most modern firearms and is automatically activated, via a magnetic seal, when unholstered.
The six-ounce device, developed by Adirondack Optics Inc., can record up to a full hour of audio and video in a high-quality, secure digital format. The footage is encrypted to prevent tampering, and it comes with security software designed with rigorous chain-of-custody evidence documentation in mind.
PistolCam takes a page from now-standard “dashcams,” which have proven to be a powerful legal and investigatory police tool.
“Undoubtedly, dashcam video has had a positive effect on how officers do their job,” said DeProspo. “But there are limitations. If you’re a rural officer, you may spend a lot of your time in the squad, but if you’re working downtown Detroit or Philadelphia, you’re barely in your car.”
Thus, PistolCam is the logical extension of the dashcam, offering incident footage to go.
PistolCam may also become the best weapon against drawn-out court cases and lawsuits.
According to a 2002 International Association of Chiefs of Police study, officers were exonerated 93 percent of the time in cases where video evidence was available. (Click here for a PDF of the study)
Most agencies have learned the hard way how just costly and time-consuming investigations can be.
“Just think about the man hours and costs of all the people involved in just the evidentiary process,” said DeProspo, a former prosecutor in New York. “PistolCam will be able to save time and money on that front.”
Beyond the evidentiary advantages, the device could provide unprecedented training footage.
“It can become a cutting-edge training tool,” said DeProspo. “Imagine being able to show recruits use-of-force incidents from the firearm’s perspective, particularly in drawn-out standoff situations.”
But some shootings are split-second decisions that involve factors and observations that occur before the weapon is drawn, an issue that has not escaped the makers of PistolCam.
“There is no technology that can fully record and preserve everything during an incident unless you have a full camera crew following the officers — and that’s never going to happen,” DeProspo said.
The makers of PistolCam stress that the device should be used in conjunction with other evidence — 911 calls, forensics, and so on — to provide proper evidence for use-of-force cases, as well as training purposes.
The concept for the device came from Terry Gordon, an avid outdoorsman and hunting enthusiast. He believed hunters would enjoy being able to see their work on video.
Gordon soon realized that this could have tremendous impact in the law enforcement arena, and he began to tailor it for officers. The device became smaller, lighter and mountable to almost any firearm with a rail. A tactical illuminator and an optional laser sight were also added.
There has been some hesitation from officers about PistolCam similar to grumblings about dashcams decades ago when they came out, but the company is actively seeking feedback from officers to make the device a habitual — and unintrusive — element of their jobs.
DeProspo envisions a time where the device could wirelessly transmit footage on the fly, or even contain a GPS tracker in case an officer’s weapon is stolen. In the meantime, the $695 device serves a vital role in modern law enforcement.
“Let’s be honest here. Any punk with a cell phone can record an officer, upload it to the Internet and make it look horrible,” said DeProspo. “But PistolCam can give you a leg up in the court and in the public arena. You’ll have a clear, unbiased account of the incident on camera.”