SCSO Deputy Sam Matney wears a pair of the sunglasses with a video camera in the frame. Photo by David Grace.
New tools at the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office are giving police supervisors, juries and judges a first-person view of what officers encounter in the field.
Over the past four months, three officers on different shifts have been equipped with camera glasses. The sunglasses can record two hours of high-definition video and audio, while also being able to snap still photos.
"Holding a license in front of me, reading the license, you can see across the vehicle and it records a medicine bottle located on the opposite side,” said Deputy Sam Matney. “So you’re able to see on camera a very clear field of view like the officer. ”
SCSO Operations Lt. Andy Seabolt says the agency plans to purchase 18 additional pairs of the glasses through a recently obtained Highway Safety Grant. He said it’s the cost, along with the quality of video they provide, that makes the glasses an attractive tool.
“When we were shopping for an in-car camera system, a company came and did a demo of their equipment,” said Seabolt. “They included the glasses in the demo and showed video that was obtained from them. At first glance, the video appeared to be the best in-car video I had ever seen. It turned out that the video we were watching was actually the glasses. At that point, we realized the benefit these glasses could provide.”
Seabolt says a typical, no frills in-car video system typically runs between $4,500 and $5,000. Meanwhile, the video glasses are $399 each.
Data collected by the cameras is transferred to computers through a USB cable, while the glasses can be charged with a traditional universal charger in a squad car.
Different colored lights are visible to the officers wearing the devices, letting them know if they’re capturing video, audio or taking still photos. Three interchangeable lenses allow for recording in various lighting conditions.
“The video glasses provide a benefit in that they can record a clear and up-close view of a person suspected of driving under the influence whereas an in-car camera cannot,” Seabolt said.
Matney says he’s activated his glasses for recording on practically all types of incidents he handles, including DUI checkpoints, domestic disturbances and building searches. During a recent alarm call he began recording while en route, with video from his subsequent sweep of the structure playing back like a first-person video game.
The technology may also help the department and officers squash fraudulent claims, as arrestees and police often have differing accounts of events — be it what was said, observed or the use of force.
But the technology and convenience it provides are not a catch-all for officers. Seabolt believes the glasses will never totally replace in-car video, as units equipped with the system automatically begin recording when the squad car’s lights are activated.
He said those systems also provide a “pre-event” recording, making sure a violation observed by the officer is also preserved.
Thus the camera glasses, according to Seabolt, provide just another piece to his agency’s arsenal, and need to be used in conjunction with tried and true measures.
“While courts will review video and admit a video as evidence in a case, the facts that an officer swears to in his or her affidavit are considered as well,” said Seabolt. “It’s kind of like reading a book. It might be boring if there are no pictures or other visual aids to help explain what is being read. The video is simply the visual aid that helps others understand.”