San Jose police to get uniform camera

October 26, 2009 11:59:21 PM PDT
The recent cell phone video of San Jose police beating an unarmed suspect only tells part of the story, according to an officer's lawyer and police say it underscores the need for a new piece of technology.

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San Jose police are about to become the first in the nation to have HD cameras integrated with their uniforms.

The video of the arrest of a San Jose State University student shows enough, to make you want to look away. It shows police hitting the unarmed 20-year-old man with a baton more than 10 times, Tasing him, and you can hear his cries.

Still, it doesn't show everything investigators would like to see.

"If you notice, it was grainy, it was from a long distance and that doesn't give us the full picture of what was going on," says Bobby Lopez, President of the San Jose Police Officers Association.

But San Jose police say they have an answer for the imperfect and incomplete cell phone video.

"We will be the first department in the nation to do this," says San Jose Police Chief Rob Davis.

Chief Davis says he has been working with the Taser company to bring a new camera to San Jose police. It will fit over an officer's ear, like a Bluetooth device, and it will record an entire incident from the officer's point of view in high definition.

In the San Jose beating case, he says it would have made a huge difference.

"We would have had the video from the moment they walked in the house. So it would answer a lot of questions that we have," says Chief Davis.

"This is big brother that has come to San Jose," says Steven Clark, a defense attorney.

Clark says this raises a few privacy issues. He does like the idea of having concrete evidence to use in court, but he's concerned about the side effects.

"What about children that may be present during an arrest? What about other innocent people who are now going to be videotaped every time the police have an arrest?" says Clark.

He's not the only one with concerns; some of the officers are worried about their own privacy and that simple things like a personal phone call will be recorded.

"I think it's a great idea," says Lopez. Lopez hopes to persuade the rank and file that this technology is in their best interest. He also adds "It's going to vindicate many officers."

He wishes the cameras were in place for the SJSU arrest that has now generated a criminal investigation into the police officers' actions.

Phuong Ho is the 20-year-old man seen beaten in the cell phone video. He is suing the police department for excessive force. The department's investigation should be turned over to the district attorney by Friday and the officers involved are on paid leave. Regardless, the attorney for one of the officers told the San Jose Mercury News they did nothing wrong.

The attorney said the entire video shows Ho being combative and non-compliant which he says "raised the stakes of the game."

Cell phone video:
Mercury News: Raw cell phone video
Mercury News: Read the entire story

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