In the wake of recent police shootings and the resulting civil unrest, police departments around the country are outfitting their forces with body cameras. The departments hope that the cameras bring accountability for both officers and civilians, as well as impartial evidence in the event an incident should occur.

Body cameras are growing increasingly popular in major cities. The Leadership Conference’s Body-Worn Cameras Scorecard found that 45 out of 68 of the major U.S. city police departments now have body worn camera programs in place, though size and scope vary.

However, there are frequent media reports that cameras are not turned on at the right times and thus don’t capture important incidents. In Chicago this fall, a body camera failed to capture a cop fatally shooting an 18-year-old black man, leading to community outrage and civil unrest.

Axon, the body camera division of police technology firm Taser, recently released a gun holster sensor designed to solve the problem of turned-off body cameras.

“When law enforcement officers must draw a weapon, the last thing they should worry about is their technology,” said Rick Smith, CEO and co-founder of Taser.

The Signal Sidearm is a smart sensor that clips onto an officer’s existing holster. The sensor can detect when a weapon has been removed and uses a wireless signal to automatically prompt all nearby body cameras to start recording. The sensor reduces the chance of camera error resulting in incomplete footage, and gives police officials multiple views of the incident.

The sensor works with all Axon body cameras, including in-car cameras. Once a firearm is drawn, according to Taser, the sensor is triggered and alerts all Axon cameras within a 30-foot range to begin recording. The battery in the device lasts approximately 1.5 years, so no need to worry about recharging. Additionally, the sensor automatically alerts the user when the battery gets low.

The new sensor could have a major impact on U.S. police forces since Axon cameras are used by 80 percent of major U.S. cities.

While the sensor will ensure footage of an officer potentially firing his gun, some are concerned it isn’t enough. Since the sensor doesn’t trigger cameras until the gun is removed from the holster, there may not be footage of the incident as it escalates. Frequently, the circumstances that lead to an officer feeling the need to remove their weapon are disputed. Thus, the camera may not capture if the officer was justified in removing or discharging their gun. However, the smart sensor does offer the promise that at least some portion of the incident will be captured–which wasn’t guaranteed before.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs