BY GABE LICHT
MAPLE PLAIN, MN After Michael Brown was fatally shot by officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO, Aug. 9, 2014, Viridian Weapon Technologies in Maple Plain began developing a gun-mounted camera.
“It was right after Ferguson when we saw the lack of evidence in that case, as well as all the other high-profile, officer-involved shootings when you didn’t know what happened,” Viridian President and CEO Brian Hedeen said.
Fast forward three years, and the camera dubbed the FACT DUTY is ready to be tested by a number of police departments throughout the United States, including West Hennepin Public Safety Department, which polices Maple Plain and Independence.
“They came to us saying, ‘We’re working on a weapon-mounted camera,’” Sgt. Rick Denneson said.
WHPSD personnel are familiar with Viridian as a locally-based company that specializes in equipment such as gun-mounted laser sights and flashlights.
“They came to us because we’re a local department and they’re a local company,” Denneson said. “ . . . They asked us to test out the product and we said we would.”
About 10 years ago, long before the FACT DUTY was developed, WHPSD started utilizing gun-mounted flashlights.
“They looked at this and said, ‘There’s rails and that’s where the light is mounted. Why not mount a camera in that same location?’” Denneson said. “They also recognize the importance of having a flashlight on it. They have created a flashlight and a camera that records video and audio. This goes in the exact same place where our current flashlight is used without other adaptations.”
Since 2011, Viridian has been making lasers with a feature called InstantOn.
“They turn on automatically when a gun is drawn out of the holster,” Hedeen said. “The camera is utilizing that same technology we’ve been doing for quite some time.”
“The camera operates by a magnetic switch,” Denneson added. “Your holster has a magnet they put into it. When you pull your weapon out of the holster, when the camera comes away from the magnet, it comes on. There’s not officer interaction.”
Denneson and Hedeen believe that is one advantage over body cameras.
Another advantage is the view a gun-mounted camera offers.
“With body cameras, we have seen a lot of video where they’re wearing it on the front of their shirt,” Denneson said. “When the officer draws a weapon or is hiding behind a building or something, you lose the view of the camera because it’s being covered up by the officer’s hands or a building or something like that.”
Because the FACT DUTY is mounted on the gun, if it is pointed at an object, that is what is on camera.
One possible disadvantage of the technology is that it does not record what leads up to an officer drawing his or her gun.
“Our department has squad car-mounted cameras,” Denneson said. “Officers wear body mics. We have a conversation that leads up to it. We have a video camera that shows what happens in front of the squad car.”
Denneson believes a gun-mounted camera “captures the most critical information that you want.”
It does so without requiring copious amounts of data, like that captured by body cameras, to be managed.
“The big difference with the cost is the ongoing storage and software,” Hedeen said. “The upfront cost (of body cameras) is not usually very significant, but what is significant is the ongoing data storage and management software. That takes a lot of time, management, and money.”
The FACT DUTY costs about $500.
Three WHPS officers, including Denneson, will try it out over the next three months before deciding whether or not they want to purchase them.
Hedeen said the technology will continue to be produced in Maple Plain, potentially leading to more local jobs.
“Depending on how this ramps up, we could scale accordingly,” Hedeen said.