(Salem News (MA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 17--PEABODY -- It's an iconic image: the stern-faced patrolman whose reflective sunglasses make it impossible to know just what he's looking at.
In future, however, the problem could be one of determining just how many people are looking at you.
That's because in future, the patrolman might not be wearing ordinary glasses, but Google Glass, capable of informing the wearer of information about the world he sees, as well as sending off images of that world to others.
Deputy police Chief Marty Cohan recently completed a trial of Google Glass, the new technology that puts a tiny, voice-activated computer into a pair of glasses. The device came from a company called WiredBlue, which was founded in Peabody by former police detective Peter Olson. The firm already provides software programs designed for law enforcement to area police departments.
Cohan quickly saw benefits with the glasses.
"Let's say an officer goes to a call, an active shooter situation," he said. "One of the last things you want to be doing is playing with your radio. ... It takes away a free hand."
Then how do you keep the station house informed of where you are going and what you are doing? With the glasses, Cohan explained, it's simply a matter of flipping on the video camera, which is streamed back to a central location.
"He won't have to be calling in, telling them, 'I'm going down the corridor.'" Instead, officers providing backup can see exactly what he is doing and see it in real time.
In Beverly officer Dave Costa is preparing to become the next to try out the high-tech lenses.
"I'm always trying to look for new, innovative ways to do our job. ... This is a good opportunity for us," he said.
Costa says it's not just about recording videos -- "that's limiting." Rather, he sees an officer facing a burning building who can call up a blueprint of the site on his Google Glass before stepping inside. Or, dealing with a suspicious person, he can get a criminal record without having to retreat to a cruiser and haul out a laptop.
Cohan pointed out that the glasses, which fit comfortably, are an improvement over the radio, where a warning message -- perhaps telling the officer that an individual has a record of violence toward police -- is loud enough that both can hear it, putting the suspect on guard. The glasses are silent.
A number of departments have asked for a chance to sample the Google Glass. WiredBlue is hoping to develop apps for it.
"We ought to be doing as much as possible in terms of research and development," said Robert St. Pierre, interim police chief in Peabody. "We need to keep looking at new technology."
Costa sees a twofold benefit to the trial, which he notes is being done at no cost to Beverly. Not only does it teach what the glasses can do for law enforcement, it will also alert patrolmen to what they face should they encounter civilians using Google Glass. It's also possible the device, using face reading technology, could one day provide identifications.
Cohan wore the glasses in somewhat limited circumstances. Given their value -- he puts the cost at $1,800 a pair -- he was reluctant to risk them on the street. Costa won't wear his on calls, either, he said, because the department has yet to formulate a policy for their use. He will make sure his colleagues get a good look at the glasses.
Of course, there are limits to the technology. Video cameras now record many of our comings and goings, but only a limited number of people are assigned to watch the images.
"In a high percentage of the cases there's nobody looking," said Cohan.
Further, when it comes to Google Glass, Cohan concedes both officers and the public may feel uneasy at having their every move recorded.
The glasses also require the wearer to look past a "read out" to what's beyond.
Yet, in a dangerous world officers sometimes need to give all their attention to their surroundings. Cohan noted the tendency of texters to forget their surroundings, so much so that they walk into lamp posts and telephone poles.
With well-trained officers, however, "I think you can get past that."
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