PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - Law enforcement officers in South Florida have a new tool to clear up questions in controversial police-involved shootings.
It's called the shield firearm camera, and it's being developed in South Florida.
"The camera itself simply mounts right onto the bottom of a service weapon and it starts recording the second the officer takes it out of the holster," Max Kramer, the president of Centinel Solutions, said.
The small device slides onto the rails typically used for flashlights. Then it automatically records a video and sends a notification to officers in the area whenever someone draws their weapon.
"It's not activated at the discretion of the officer," Kramer said. "It's reliable."
Centinel Solutions is the Palm Beach company developing the gun-mounted cameras.
Kramer said the camera bring accountability to use of force encounters--and a view of what the officer is seeing.
"It shows that final mile in high-risk situations," Kramer said.
These high-risk situations are becoming increasingly controversial. In Florida protests regarding police shootings of unarmed people have taken place. In addition, several officers have been shot while on the job.
Since 2016 about 78 officers have been killed by gunfire in the line of duty nationwide.
There are currently no official national figures available for the number of officer-involved shootings nationwide.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement told Local 10 News it was asked to investigate 82 shootings by officers from July 2015 to June 2016. Police departments are not required to report officer-involved shootings to FDLE.
"I did see that there was a need," Kramer said.
One concern with a typical body-worn camera is when an officer pulls their weapon, they're almost always in a dynamic situation, so they could either be taking cover or even pointing a weapon itself.
But with the camera Kramer's company has designed, the view becomes more clear.
Several departments have tested the shield camera recently, including St. Petersburg police.
The department said its training division has tested the cameras and will be exploring other companies before making any implementation decisions.
Centinel Solutions said their cameras should be available for sale within the year, with a price tag that is comparable in cost to existing cameras.
The camera has been in development for 3 1/2, as the company collected feedback from officers requesting changes.
Some law enforcement advocates have their doubts about the camera.
"I think it's going to hinder and endanger police officers because they're going to think twice about pulling their weapon," Broward Police Benevolent Association President Jeff Marano said.
Marano said the camera would essentially be recording how often an officer pulls their gun-potentially making them think twice in what could be a split-second decision.
"So that's in the back of your mind and at the end of the day, we all just want to go home to our families and not get shot and killed," Marano said.
He said putting the camera where a flashlight goes could also be an issue for SWAT- and tactical officers--and that's something Kramer said the company is working on.
Though the camera won't show exactly what led to the officer pulling their weapon, Kramer said it can be used along with body-worn cameras-offering another view.
"I don't think there is any one product, especially for a job as varied as law enforcement," Kramer said.
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