Cops in Washington DC could soon be compelled to fit their pistols with cameras that would record gunsight video in every situation in which the weapons were drawn, according to reports.
According to US network NBC, District of Columbia council member Harry "Tommy" Thomas has introduced a draft local bill which would compel city plods to fit their shooters with under-barrel cam modules. The bill is under consideration by the DC judicial committee.
Gun camera technology is relatively simple to make, and is already available off the shelf. Most modern semi-automatic pistols have mounting rails beneath the frame allowing accessories such as tactical lights or laser sights to be attached, and cameras can easily be fitted to these. Typically the camera is set to start recording both sound and video as soon as the weapon is drawn from its holster - a rare event for most American police officers, other than on the firing range.
Such cameras are on trial with US cops, but aren't yet in routine use. The idea is that they could safeguard police from malicious accusations of wrongful shooting - and also, of course, make it much easier to penalise police in the case of mistakes or trigger-happiness.
Pistol-cams are being tried out at the moment by cops in Orange County, New York, following a controversial shooting by plods in the city of Newburgh. In the case of Antonio Bryant, shot dead by police in 2006, the street version of the story differs massively from the one told by the cops.
Local politicians - and some senior police officers - believe that gun cameras could enhance community relations in future cases by providing solid proof that cops have acted reasonably. Presumably this would involve making shooting footage public in some way - perhaps via YouTube, the favoured channel for the plods' enemies to distribute their propaganda. This would be technically simple, current gun-cam models being fitted with mini-USB connections.
Others reckon that the knowledge of being recorded will ensure that officers stick more strictly to their rules of engagement.
Newburgh top cop Eric Paolilli said: "We believe it is a cutting edge technology that will enhance police officer training and it will enable us to better our cooperation and interaction with the City of Newburgh community." However, he also suggested that shoulder or head-mouted cams of the type sometimes used by British cops, parking-enforcement people and even lollipop crossing guards would also be good. This would prevent harassed plods from drawing their guns simply to get a situation on video.
Police officers' union representatives in Newburgh, on the other hand, have predicted stiff resistance from their membership to the idea of gun-cams. Though presumably only the guilty cops would have anything to fear.
In Orange County, anyway, there is no roadmap toward the kit being routinely deployed. But in Washington DC, if Thomas gets his way, things could move faster. The US capital has serious community-vs-police issues and a high rate of gun violence.
A camera option is also available for the Taser electric stungun, which tends to get a lot more attention when used than ordinary firearms - certainly in countries where police are routinely armed, anyway. This has meant that the Taser-cam has actually been available for longer than the pistol-cam. ®