VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – A Bluetooth police technology that streamlines officer body camera activation could soon be coming to several police departments across Hampton Roads, but it’s already been dropped by one department due to safety issues.
The technology, called Signal Sidearm, automatically activates a police officer’s body camera any time they pull their gun from its holster.
Currently, Suffolk Police Department uses Signal Sidearm. They denied WAVY-TV’s request for an interview about how it works. At least three other departments in Hampton Roads are considering using the technology.
The Virginia Beach Police Department previously used Signal Sidearm, but dropped the technology due to safety issues.
So, we went to the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department for answers about Signal Sidearm. They’ve been using the technology for about a year and a half. For officers in Charlotte, their body camera turns on not just when the officer pulls their gun, but also when they pull their taser or turn on their blue emergency lights on their car.
“In a life or death situation, they don’t have to think about [turning their camera on],” said Capt. Mike Harris.
“There’s a lot that goes through our mind when we respond to a call. There’s 15 or 20 different options that could take place – good or bad,” said Harris.
When Donovon Lynch was shot and killed by a Virginia Beach Police Officer but no body camera footage was available from that officer, it was made public that the Signal Sidearm devices couldn’t properly fit with the department’s existing holsters. The department then worked to get holsters that could accommodate the Signal Sidearm technology.
However, Safariland model holsters and their accompanying Signal technology were pulled several months later after an officer’s weapon fired during a struggle with a homicide suspect at a local hospital. At that time, the police chief said a potential defect with the holster presented the safety issue.
We reached out to Virginia Beach police for an update on whether they will revisit the Signal Sidearm technology. Our questions were not answered before this report was published.
Meanwhile, in Charlotte, Harris tells us Signal Sidearm goes a long way to creating accountability within his department.
“We’re in a time where we want to be as transparent as possible,” said Harris.
“It gives us the opportunity to have that interaction on a daily basis with the people we come in contact with,” said Harris.
The technology initially cost the department about $200,000. It is now part of a larger contract and paid for with city funds.
Harris says the technology is invaluable if it helps his officers stay safe.
“We have stress, we have things to think about, sometimes when that critical call becomes extremely dangerous, we have to laser focus to make sure we go home to our families safely,” he said.