It's an all too familiar story. A sheriff's deputy or patrol officer confronts an armed youth somewhere on the mean streets. The youth produces a handgun from his waistband and points it at the officer. The officer opens fire, killing the young man. Public outrage follows.
But what if you could screen a video for that outraged public that shows exactly what the officer saw—the kid with the gun—from the moment the officer drew her weapon to the moment that she holstered it?
That's the idea behind PistolCam, a camera that can be mounted on any rail-equipped handgun.
PistolCam is the brainchild of Terry Gordon, a former corrections officer and avid hunter who invented SmartScope, a rifle scope that captures video of a hunt. At the urging of former New York City prosecutor Bill DeProspo, Gordon decided to repurpose SmartScope as a tool to capture video of officer-involved shootings.
PistolCam is a combination tactical illumination device (a 120-lumen LED with two hours of runtime), laser sight, and video system all in one. It weighs only 5.5 ounces.
Gordon says PistolCam can store up to one hour of near DVD-quality MPEG4 video and audio on permanently mounted flash memory. The video is encrypted, so the user cannot alter or erase the images and the evidence chain is preserved. However, the video can be downloaded by the officer so that it can be used to identify a suspect or shared with other officers who are searching for a suspect.
In addition to its one hour of video memory, the PistolCam can capture still images. After its video storage reaches 95-percent capacity, the camera goes into auto-stills mode, meaning that it will capture a still image when the weapon is discharged.
The system includes a special holster that fits the duty weapon and the PistolCam device. The company is now working on a Level III retention holster.
A special holster is required when using PistolCam because a magnetic strip in the holster automatically activates the camera 1.4 seconds after the officer draws his or her gun. "I didn't want some officer to have to answer questions in court as to why he switched on the video and why he didn't," says DeProspo. "So it's automatic. The officer can't turn it on or turn it off."
Both Gordon and DeProspo say they realize that some officers may not want to face more video scrutiny. However, they want those officers to know that PistolCam was developed to help defend officers, not indict them.
"Studies have shown that in 93 percent of the cases where there is video documentation of police actions, the officers are exonerated of any wrongdoing or misconduct," DeProspo says. "I believe that all good cops will want to have this technology both for training and for protection."
Gordon adds, "When we first consulted with officers about the idea, they said they thought video on their guns was inevitable. One told me, 'Everyone else has a camera now; why shouldn't we?'"
For SWAT operations, the company also makes a version of its hunting scope for tactical rifles. "There's no reason why every SWAT sniper in America shouldn't have this technology on his weapon," DeProspo says.
PistolCam is being evaluated by the Newburgh (N.Y.) Police Department among other agencies. It sells for $700 per unit.
Gordon believes that PistolCam will be a cost saver for any agency that adopts it. "If it saves one lawsuit, then it pays for itself," he says.
The company will have working models at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas next month.
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