This article reports on the results of the pilot testing of body-worn cameras for law enforcement officers by the San Mateo Police Department (California), and suggests ways to improve upon the usefulness and capabilities of these cameras for police officers.
Unlike vehicle-mounted cameras, the body-worn cameras travel with officers when they are involved in incidents that require them to move out of the range of the vehicle camera. Proponents of body-worn camera view it as a tool to protect officers from false accusations, reduce agency liability and citizen complaints, and provide evidence for court presentation. Although these arguments are persuasive, when the body-worn camera was pilot tested with officers of the San Mateo Police Department (SMPD), limitations of the body-worn camera were identified. According to Capt. Wayne Hoss of the SMPD, after testing the body-worn camera for the past 3 years, the SMPD determined that none of the cameras tested was ready for full-time wearing by police officers. They were not recording what officers wanted them to see. The camera's perspective is not the perspective viewed by the officer unless it is mounted on the officer's head. It works well for officers who wear a helmet. Another challenge is current battery life. Even with limited use, current batteries last only long enough for one shift. As capabilities are added and the cameras have increased use, the current batteries are inadequate. The challenge is to have stronger batteries that would not make the camera too large for officer comfort. Expanded capabilities recommended by Capt. Hoss are for the reading of license plates and facial features of suspects who may be wanted. He has been discussing these improvements with industry representatives.