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San Jose Cops Suit Up With Aliens‘s Colonial Marine Cameras

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It’s not only big scientific breakthroughs like Mark Roth’s suspended animation or the Pentagon’s lightsaber-like plasma knives that bring our favorite scifi movies to mind. It can also be something simple, like a report that police officers in California are starting to use head-mounted cameras. Sounds simple enough, but it actually harks forward to a futuristic gadget the master of scifi action James Cameron created for his Colonial Marines in Aliens.

Earlier this month, the San Jose police department launched a pilot project equipping officers with head-cams to record their interactions with civilians. There’s no explanation given as to why Hicks and his fictional squad have cameras attached to their helmets in the movie (besides the fact that it allows their incompetent Commanding Officer to see what is going on without getting too close to the action), but the police say they’re trying out the devices in hopes that they’ll provide evidence of crimes, timely information about suspects and aid investigations of complaints against police.

Critics of the department agree the head-cams might remind officers not to overstep their bounds. According to the local paper, The Mercury News, the San Jose police make more arrests for resisting arrest than any other major California city, and have repeatedly used force in incidents that began as seemingly benign situations. A cell phone video showing officers apparently beating a San Jose State University student from Vietnam hasn’t helped the department’s image. Obviously, dealing with alien residents in San Jose is more complicated than dealing with the aliens living on LV-426, where there’s no such thing as using too much force. Ripley’s strategy for the dealing with the planetoid’s toothy criminal element: “I say we take off, and nuke the site from orbit.”

San Jose is the first major U.S. city to try out the unique surveillance system, known as AXON. But if it works, it’s hard to imagine that other police departments wouldn’t eventually suit up the same way. The Bluetooth-sized camera is attached to an officer via a headband above the ear and the video is stored in a small pack that hangs from the officer’s belt. The cameras, which are equipped with an audio recorder and align with the officer’s vision, are turned on when the officer makes contact with a person and are later switched to standby mode. At the end of each user’s shift, recordings are downloaded to a central server.

The key to the system’s success is that while officers may review the tape at any time, it may not be erased. Ripley would have benefited from such a system on her first trip to LV-426. Weyland-Yutani Corporation couldn’t say she was lying about aliens attacking her crew because the footage would prove it really happened. Surely, the company would never send anyone back there knowing the truth, right? End of sequel. Ripley can rest in peace.

Having the truth on tape is perhaps why officers welcome the devices. “I used it this morning in making an arrest,” says William Doane, one of the AXON test pilots. “It verified what I saw.”

Robocop recorded everything he saw and he still went around saying things like, “Dead or alive, you’re coming with me!” That seems like excessive force. On the other hand his recording of the villain’s confession helped him justify his actions and he ended up a hero.

One thing’s for sure: The POV video will end up as entertainment just like it did in Aliens. A production company is already working on a deal with a major cable network for a “Cops”-type reality show using the AXON head-mounted camera. The project’s working title: “POV-PD.”

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