Smile and mind your manners. You’re on candid police camera.

That’s the latest video technology on the beat in San Diego and San Jose.

Officers have found citizens with more courtesy and less belligerence when they note the mini-cam perched alongside the cop’s temple.

“It helps us out in the field,” said San Jose Officer William Pender. “It changes the attitude of people when they know they’re being recorded. They act differently … People kind of mind their manners.”

San Diego and San Jose are the two biggest of five cities in the country doing Beta testing (giving feedback on software and hardware glitches before wide release of the product) on the AXON unit. It’s a police-use, head-mounted camera system made by Taser International of Arizona.

The other cities are Cincinnati, Ohio; Fort Smith, Ark.; and Aberdeen, S.D.
Nine San Diego officers began testing AXON in February. Eighteen officers have been checking out the video system in San Jose, starting in January.

This looks like the wave of the future in police work, San Jose Officer Pender and Sgt. Ronnie Lopez agree.

Pender said he and colleagues were initially skeptical. But on the first day, Pender said, he saw the potential. He predicts AXON will spread in a similar fashion to Tasers, now used in thousands of police agencies.  

“I believe that, hopefully in the near future, this is going to be standard equipment for an officer to carry,” said Lopez. It will spread, he predicted, as developing technology becomes less expensive.

For San Jose, the cost is $1,700 per kit plus $99 per month (for one officer) to support the software. At the end of a shift, the officer docks the unit in a port and uploads the audio and video, marked by Global Positioning System tags, to a neutral server (for evidence security purposes). The officer is unable to edit the digital video images, said Lopez.

It usually takes three to five minutes, up to as much as 20 minutes on a day when he uploads a lot of video, Pender said.

The kit has a camera mounted along the temple, looking like a Bluetooth device, Lopez said. There is a small video screen clipped to the officer’s belt, and a microphone that attaches to the lapel.

The police officer flips on the AXON device at her discretion. San Jose has developed a protocol to turn it on for incidents that involve enforcement action, when the elements of a crime exist beyond a reasonable doubt, Lopez said – when it’s time to make an arrest.

The video images stream in 30-second intervals so that when an officer flips it on, the previous 30 seconds of video are preserved. This has been useful in patrol car situations when an officer driving by notices a potential crime happening on the sidewalk and turns AXON on. The video preserves what happens as the officer approaches the scene, the images from the point of view of the officer with the camera alongside his eyes.

AXON is helpful in Driving Under the Influence stops, recording the driver’s state of inebriation and balance during field inebriation exercises, Lopez said.

The video evidence can establish the full context of an incident and arrest, Lopez said, as opposed to cellphone video clips of police responses that often record a limited segment of what happens in a confrontation.

“The problem has been that you know they’re only going to capture the little moments they want,” said Pender. “Any time an officer has to use force, it looks bad.

“But if you show all the things that happened beforehand, what forced you into a confrontation, the public is going to say, ‘Of course, that’s why they had to respond that way.'”

Pender thinks an AXON video record would prevent many frivolous brutality lawsuits now filed against officers and the city. These suits are often settled quickly for a small cash amount rather than allowing costly legal proceedings to drag on, Pender added.

He thought of it during a recent confrontation, recorded by AXON, with a drunken, knife-wielding man at a laundry. The man was flashing a wad of cash and the officers told him to put it away.

Without the video record, Pender would have worried that the man would pass out after police had left, have his money stolen and then wake up groggily, remembering only a police encounter. That scenario might produce a lawsuit, alleging the police stole his cash, Pender said.

In reality, that man was initially belligerent. Later on, he noticed the camera and in his own drunken way showed more polite behavior, Pender said.

The 15-year veteran of San Jose police is positive about AXON. “The one negative is that it is not the most comfortable thing to wear,” Pender said. Often, when not recording, he takes the headpiece off and lets it rest around his neck. “It begins to hurt the side of the temple,” he said.

“There’s a lot of wiring,” he said. “Sometimes I feel like a conductor panel for a PGE unit with so many wires running under my uniform.”

In the Beta testing process, the Taser International engineers have modified the equipment, making it lighter and adding cushioning. The three-month pilot project was originally scheduled to have finished by now but with equipment modifications the testing goes on, Lopez said.

Eventually, a decision on whether to permanently deploy AXON kits will be made with an eye on city finances. It may hinge on the city gaining a grant for the purpose, Lopez said.

Also, the engineers are working on changes to integrate the AXON microphone with standard police two-way radio microphones, Lopez said.

AXON has already proven its value in a tragic incident in Fort Smith, Ark. Responding to a report of domestic violence, police entered a house to find a man with a gun. The officer shot and killed the man. The AXON record demonstrated that the officer told the man nine times to drop his gun with no results, said Steve Tuttle, vice president of communications for Taser International.

Sacramento police are aware of the AXON testing but not exploring its use at this time. “The technology is fairly new so we will see how reliable and functional in a police environment they are,” said Sgt. Norm Leong. “Right now our priority is trying to update our existing technology.”

Lance Howland can be reached at