The use of police body cameras is widely accepted and encouraged by most of the population in the United States, but a recent event might just hurt that acceptance rate. Users of the Vievu LE-5 body camera seem to be at risk after one unit simply burst into flames in New York City. All Staten Island officers assigned to body cameras of the same model were told to turn in their devices, as the department fears for the safety of their members. That means 2,990 officers aren’t wearing body-worn cameras anymore, which only delays NYPD’s plans of equipping all 23,000 officers with such devices.
The incident happened during a midnight shift in the 121st Precinct on the northwestern shore of Staten Island when the officer wearing the Vievu body camera noticed smoke coming out of it. The officer quickly removed the camera and, thanks to his prompt action, he did not get injured when the camera exploded. A police official said “the cause and the scope of the defect are currently being investigated” but it’s most likely a battery related issue as the Police Department claimed it “revealed a potential for the battery inside the camera to ignite”. But this isn’t the first time a lithium battery explodes. It’s hard not to think of the vast number of incidents and lawsuits Samsung faced when the Galaxy S7 first came out.
“Nothing is more important than the safety of our officers, and equipping the N.Y.P.D. with the best equipment is a paramount priority,” said police commissioner James P. O’Neill, who also interrupted use of the LE-5 model “out of an abundance of caution.” But that was the only model affected by the order, meaning all the officers assigned to any other model of body cameras, including the LE-4, are still using the devices. NYPD acquired more than 15,500 Vievu body cameras in a $6.4 million contract and, despite this incident, the vast majority of those cameras are still in use.
Even a small event like this one could gravely hurt the body camera industry. Axon, company which acquired Vievu earlier this year, claims they “will do whatever is necessary to quickly and safely resolve this situation,” but now the damage has been done. Many officers will now be afraid and against the use of body-worn cameras, and that hurts not only Axon but all the other manufacturers, distributors, and resellers that have been working hard for years on creating and maintaining the quality standards the industry currently has in the United States.