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Kemah To Use Gun Cameras For Their Police Officers

The Kemah Police Department says it will purchase weapon-mounted cameras as soon as funding is secured.

With the increased scrutiny of officer-involved shootings, police departments across the country have been adopting body cameras. But they’re not perfect.

“When you watch the videos, you often see an arm or a shoulder in front of it or it’s looking down or the officer is looking into another direction and the camera is looking another way, so you don’t even tell what the officer is looking at,” Kemah police Chief Chris Reed said.

So Reed decided to accept an offer from weapon technology firm Viridian for cameras that are attached to guns.   

The cameras start recording automatically when the gun is drawn out of the holster and stop when they’re put back.

Viridian President and CEO Brian Hedeen said his company developed the technology after the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and similar shootings.

He said it’s more useful than body cameras – which officers have to turn on manually when they’re interacting with someone – in determining what happened in an officer-involved shootings.

“The vast, vast majority of them the reason that the officer drew his weapon, in other words what happened before he drew his weapon, was not at issue,” he said. “The most important parts of it were actually: What happened when his gun came out? And what was he dealing with while his gun was out?”

The ideal, he said, is to use both gun-mounted and body cameras in conjunction to capture the most footage possible.

That’s what Kemah plans to do. Its 18 patrol officers already wear body cams.

Chief Reed is seeking $15,000 to $20,000 in grants to purchase 20 weapon-mounted cameras and some additional features.

That will make the Kemah Police Department Texas’ second police agency after Vernon PD to adopt the technology. Waskom ISD Police, in northeast Texas, also bought one for its lone school resource officer, Viridian sales manager Kevin Skalicky said.

More than 400 law enforcement agencies across the country, including about 50 in Texas, have either adopted the cameras or are currently testing them, according to Viridian. Most of them are small to medium-size departments, like Kemah’s.

Will they be using it much? Reed said there has not been a single officer-involved shooting at least since he became chief in 2016.

But, “anytime you’re located outside the fourth-largest city of the United States, you’ve got that chance,” Reed said. “You just never know when it’s going to strike.”

He calls the cameras an “insurance policy.”

The other advantage is the small need for storage space, a major concern for especially large police departments that use body cameras. Their officers record hours of officer-to-civilian interactions every day, all of which has to be saved somewhere. That takes server space and is expensive.

The weapon-mounted cameras only record when an officer draws his or her gun, minimizing recording time.

Reed said one of his concerns was how much weight the cameras would add to officers’ service weapons, but it turned out not to be an issue.

“These are very light,” he said. “In fact, the officers don’t recognize any weight at all when they’re shooting at the range.”

The devices also include a high-powered light and, optionally, a laser.

Reed could not give a timeline for when officers will start wearing the cameras. It depends on when and if the funding is secured.

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Florian Martin

Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is currently the News 88.7 business reporter. Florian’s stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters, the Houston Press Club, National Association of Real Estate Editors, and Public Radio...

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