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"Smart guns" could help officers in tight situations

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - One procedure that failed in Ferguson was Officer Wilson's attempt to call for backup. His radio was switched to the wrong channel. But a remarkable technology in California sets help in motion the moment a gun is drawn.

Deputy James Wright is a top marksman for the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Department.

He is also one of a dozen deputies now carrying a .9mm pistol, specially equipped with a small tracking module designed to alert headquarters whenever he unholsters or fires the weapon.

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Santa Cruz, Calif., sheriffs are experimenting with a new technology that would indicate the moment a weapon

CBS News

It's high-tech backup for an officer who patrols without a partner.

"I could draw my weapon and fire it and dispatch would already be notified that I had done that prior to me updating," said Wright. For him, that means a sense of reassurance that for him, help would be on the way.

Santa Cruz is one of two departments in the United States now testing the technology. The system is simple. Using the chip in the gun and the officer's smart phone, it sends a "yellow" alert when an officer draws his gun. And a "red" alert when the weapon is fired.

Jim Schaff works for Yardarm Technologies, the Silicon Valley firm that's developing the tracking system. He used an air gun to demonstrate how the technology works.

"When an officer uses their weapon in the field, they are not always able to call immediately on the radio and we cut that response time down to seconds." The device, he says tells him which officer held the weapon, what time and where it was fired.

Santa Cruz Sheriff Phil Wowak says the system may save lives. And it will provide a clear record of what happened in any officer-involved shooting.

"This product will give us the ability to know the exact time the officer drew his weapon, the time between the drawing of the weapon and the firing of the weapon, and then the exact time between each individual shot," said Wowak.

He says this is not about tracking the actions of his officers, or keeping a database on how often one pulls a weapon.

"It really is about knowing when a person is engaged in a hostile confrontation and getting them the assistance they need to make that situation safe."

Wowak said the gun tracking information will be used to adjust and improve deputies' training. The police union seems to be on board and the early field results show the system works.