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Paper clip likely caused NYPD body cam explosion, forensic report says

Paper clips are routinely used to reset the devices, an NYPD official said.

An independent forensic investigation report was released Tuesday

An independent forensic investigation report was released Tuesday on the explosion of a body camera similar to the one above inside an NYPD precinct on Staten Island. Photo Credit: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

An NYPD body-worn camera that exploded earlier this month likely suffered a failure in its lithium ion battery, possibly after the device was damaged by a paper clip routinely used to reset it, according to an independent forensic report released Tuesday.

The findings were released by Jessica Tisch, the NYPD deputy commissioner for technology, after a discussion of law enforcement security plans for Wednesday’s Halloween parade in Greenwich Village.

Reading from the report, Tisch stated that the investigator found no indication the explosion of a Vievu LE-5 camera on Oct. 20 in a Staten Island precinct was caused by a failure of the camera circuit board, or wiring. There was also no indication the camera had suffered physical damage prior to catching fire.

Instead, the investigator “strongly suspects” that a reset switch on the bottom of the camera became dislodged when the officer used a paper clip — an approved method — to reset the device, Tisch said.

The resulting explosion led the NYPD to immediately pull about 3,000 LE-5 cameras from use, leaving about 13,500 of the earlier LE-4 models for 63 police commands around the city. The cameras were part of a roll out with a target date of the end of February 2019 to provide them to cops, sergeants and lieutenants assigned to precincts as well as transit and housing commands. The department is currently acquiring replacement units for those pulled from service.

Body cameras, while engendering some controversy, were implemented as part of the settlement of federal litigation over police stop-and-frisk tactics. Cameras were initially viewed as a pilot project but quickly spread as they gained credence.

Vievu, the cameras' manufacturer, was acquired by Scottsdale, Arizona-based Axon in May 2018. A spokeswoman for Axon, a company that develops security technology and weaponry, didn’t immediately return a phone call or email seeking comment. Shortly after the body-worn camera exploded, the company said in a statement it was cooperating with the examination of the device and reviewing its supply chain to assure that components in the camera were adequate and safe.

Two scenarios were likely to explain how the battery might have been compromised, Tisch said. In one case, the reset switch might have come dislodged and scraped against the battery, while in another scenario, the paper clip used by the officer might have had “direct access” to the battery.

The investigator believed the dislodged reset switch was a more likely possibility because the officer heard a rattling sound from the device before it exploded, Tisch said.    

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