In an age where technology reigns free and cameras are everywhere, police departments have been joining the inevitable wave of transparency to protect not only themselves, but the citizens as well.
In a sample of police departments surveyed in 2013, approximately 75 percent of departments reported that they did not use body-worn cameras, however, recent surveys show 95 percent are now either committed to body cameras or have completed their implementation.
Both the Russellville Police Department and the Logan County Sheriff’s Department believes strongly in the use of body cameras as part of their officer’s uniform. The RPD has been using the cameras for four years this April, with deputies from the SO on the third year of usage.
“Body cameras are good for the safety of the officers and has slowed down on the number of complaints we receive,” said Logan County Sheriff Wallace Whittaker. The sheriff’s department recently applied and was rewarded a Homeland Security grant of $6,182 to purchase new body cameras for its deputies. There are currently 14 deputies outfitted with body cameras. Each camera costs approximately $499.
According to Whittaker, his deputies engage the body cameras when answering a call. The cameras tape both audio and visual.
“It’s added protection for the officer and the public,” said Whittaker.
Body cameras are compact and portable, and worn throughout a shift. They are about the size of a deck of cards and can be mounted to hats, helmets, sunglasses, lapels or uniform collars. Logan County’s deputies wear them on their chests.
The cameras can record high-quality video even in low lighting conditions such as at night or a dark vehicle interior, and also provides an interface for the officer’s two-way radio. The objective of body cameras is to deliver an accurate record of officer engagements for complete situational awareness and tamper proof digital evidence.
The Russellville Police Department has 15 patrolmen who wear the cameras. The city purchases body cameras on a rotation and pays for them out of the budget.
“We’ve been using body cameras for four years now,” said Captain Todd Raymer of the Russellville Police Department. “They are a great accountability tool and are an impartial truth and fact checker. The camera doesn’t hesitate to tell facts.”
Raymer echoes the sheriff by agreeing camera usage has dropped formal complaints against his department.
“Within the past three years complaints have dropped 60 to 70 percent,” said Raymer, adding 99 percent of the time the officers are doing what they are trained to do and are supposed to do. “It’s their own insurance policy for the truth.,” said Raymer.
There are pros and cons to everything, even the decision to utilize body cameras.
The pros include:
Complete transparency; everyone can see what transpires between officers and citizens
Decisions made by officers in intense situations can be reviewed and evaluated
Recorded video evidence refutes false claims against officers
Provides valuable public relations benefits to the agency
Video and audio recording can record victim statements and witness accounts
Recorded video is valuable evidence that is difficult to refute in court.
The cons include:
Civilians and police officer have concerns about privacy issues and how to deal with those concerns is still being looked at.
If a body camera is used it can deter a person from coming forward as a witness for fear of public exposure, retaliation or another issue.
Law enforcement departments still believe the pros clearly outweigh the cons when it comes to body cameras and their use for law enforcement agencies.
To contact Chris Cooper, email [email protected] or call 270-726-8394.