Small, wearable cameras could help keep an eye on cops
by SCOTT GUTIERREZ
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 13, 2008
As leaders in Seattle and elsewhere call for stronger police
accountability, three former Seattle officers hope to cash in on that
movement with an action cam for police.
The officers' fledgling company, VIEVU, has developed a small, wireless
digital camera that could be a tool to record officers' interactions
during an arrest or traffic stop.
The camera is lightweight, about the size of a pager, and waterproof --
the latter feature being something that officers on Seattle's rainy beat
know is paramount, said Chris Myers, who ended his 18-year police career
in January to join VIEVU.
The PVR-LE easily clips onto an officer's lapel or belt. The 4-gigabyte
hard drive records up to four hours of video.
If someone accuses an officer of wrongdoing, the camera should reveal
the truth. Or, maybe it could help bolster a case if it records a
drunken driver slurring through obscenities, its developers say.
"The public likes it because it provides another level of
accountability, and police like it because it's protection for their
actions," said Myers, whose specialty in the department was testing and
training officers on less lethal technologies such as Tasers.
VIEVU, with an office in lower Queen Anne, is waiting for the
manufacturer to complete production. The former officers hope to start
filling shelves and distributing later this month.
The company enters the scene as many police agencies, including Seattle,
have equipped patrol cars with dashboard cameras, which film during
traffic stops but can't follow the officer's movement very far from the car.
Myers sees personal point-of-view cameras as the next progression. There
already are similar cameras on the market, but they are wired through an
The Seattle Police Department has seen a model of VIEVU's product and is
interested in examining the working version. But the department has no
immediate plans to equip officers with such cameras, although it might
be interested in testing the product, Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer said.
"I think it's safe to say we're very interested in technology that
promotes officer safety and accountability," Kimerer said.
Myers said the partners, including Steve Ward, VIEVU's founder, and Tom
Burns, the sales director, were involved in the Police Department's task
force for testing less-lethal technologies. He described his group as
In 2005, Myers and Burns co-founded CRT Less Lethal Inc., a consulting
firm on force options for police officers.
With their contacts, the former officers have spoken with interested
police agencies around the country, Myers said. They displayed their
product at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month, where
it was named the CES POD "Pick of the Day" by slashdotreview.com.
Ward, a 14-year officer and former SWAT team member, initially left the
department to work as vice president of marketing and international
sales for Taser International, which developed the controversial stun
guns used by many police agencies.
Developing and marketing the camera doesn't bring the same controversy,
which Ward appreciates, he said.
"I'm very, very happy to have a no-stress product," Ward said.
Seattle police moved to in-car digital cameras four years ago amid
concerns over misconduct and racial profiling, and some officers were
apprehensive about the "Big Brother" aspect, Myers said.
Among their concerns was whether tactics could be misinterpreted, such
as using street slang during the course of their work, he said.
But they soon discovered the value of cameras when someone falsely
accused them of misconduct, Myers said.
"If I'm out there doing what I'm supposed to be doing, I have nothing to
fear from it," he said.
As patrol car cameras became more common in 2004, the International
Association of Chiefs of Police sponsored a study that found 93 percent
of police-misconduct cases in which video is available result in the
Cameras also serve as a deterrent. Fifty-one percent of residents
acknowledged that they would be more watchful of their own behavior if
an officer warned them in advance that they were being recorded.
"People act differently on camera. If a police officer comes up to you
and says, 'This is being recorded,' you're likely to be much more
congenial," Ward said.
The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs hasn't explored
the personal camera issue and doesn't have any recommendations,
Executive Director Don Pierce said.
Pierce personally worries that the ability to film every interaction
could raise expectations about evidence that complicates the problem
cameras were meant to solve, he said. For instance, if the camera
malfunctions, or an officer forgets to turn it on, how does that affect
the officer's credibility?
"You have to go into it with your eyes open and how it could lead to
something that's very onerous and only marginally raises police
accountability," he said.