Olathe Johnson County sheriff's deputies are among the first officers in the country to wear cameras on their ears, in an effort to provide a better record of what happens during contact between officers and the public.
The cameras, called AXON, also provide an evidence chain and help officers fill out paperwork more quickly, said Sgt. Paul Nonnast of the sheriff's office.
"This gives us the ability to show what happens from the officer's point of view from start to finish," Nonnast said.
A spokesman for the company that makes the devices said the camera also protects the public.
"It's a double-edged sword," Taser International Inc. spokesman Steve Tuttle said. "If there is something that is bad (done by police), it will catch it and still protect the public. It's a neutral observer."
Johnson County is the only department in the Kansas City area to buy the cameras and one of only 16 in the country, although 100 departments are testing them, Tuttle said.
"This is a game changer," he said. "Police and suspects behave better when they know it is being recorded."
The units cost about $1,700 each and about $1,300 more a year to store the digital video, The Kansas City Star reported.
Johnson County deputies are using them in domestic violence calls, on SWAT teams, for warrant searches and to document sobriety tests.
The ear camera plugs into a chest unit that connects to a police radio and to a belt computer with a video monitor. It can be mounted on the helmet of a traffic officer, who could show a driver his violation. If a driver throws something out the window, the officer can also use it to get a GPS location.
And at the end of the shift, the officer plugs the gear into a docking station that encrypts the video and stores it on a Taser website. Video can't be altered by police and can be set to save for specified times.
"We have a solid evidence trail, a chain of custody," Nonnast said.
The camera can also be held to see around corners or into attics.
The new product grew out of Taser's popular stun weapon. It had a camera on it but the camera came on only when officers used the Taser, Tuttle said. That led to the idea of a camera on sunglasses or a hat and then to the new product.