It's been a long time coming and now patrol officers in the
s Fourth District have begun wearing body cameras. The first of 1500 cameras were deployed Wednesday. The $2.4 million investment is designed to record the way police treat citizens and how citizens treat the police.
The first phase of body camera deployment starts with officers assigned to basic patrol. The second phase will be to deploy body cameras in specialized units.
There are three levels of cameras: basic, standard and professional. Basic will be used by patrol officers. Standard will go to supervisors. Professional will be utilized by administrative staff and investigative units, such as homicide.
After the Fourth District is equipped, deployment will continue throughout the remaining districts over the next few months. Cameras are worn on the officer's ballistic vest or outer garment and will be used during assignments and citizen interactions.
The cameras will record activity during police interactions, increasing transparency and officer accountability. The cameras will also provide accurate documentation of police/citizen encounters and assist with reporting, evidence collection and court testimony. Body-worn cameras have been shown to reduce the number of complaints and use of force incidents in law enforcement.
Officers will activate the camera and record police activity during situations, such as:
- Pedestrian and vehicle investigative stops
- Pursuits and emergency driving situations
- Accident scenes
Cameras will generally not be used during entry into non-crime scenes, areas of expected privacy (restrooms, dressing rooms), or to record conversation not related to a police report or investigation. The cameras will break away, just like an officer's tie if he's in a struggle. The idea is safety.
"We want our officers, if they're in a physical struggle, we don't want anything that's going to prevent them from escaping," said Deputy Chief Wayne Drummond.
Officers can be disciplined for misuse of the body cameras. This includes turning the camera off during an incident, etc. Depending on the situation, there could be a written warning by the chief, or up to a 10-day suspension. More serious incidents go to the safety director for possible termination.
Data recorded by the body worn cameras will be stored on Taser's server, evidence.com. Records will be maintained according to incident priority. For example, recordings pertaining to homicide or sexual assault incidents will be maintained permanently, while critical incidents, like use of force, arrests, search warrants, felony crime scenes and vehicle pursuits, will be maintained for five years.
Officers have begun training in the operation of the body-worn cameras. After completion of training, officers will begin to use the cameras during their daily duties.
The department is in a pilot phase with the cameras, and is using the slow rollout to see if any tweaks need to be made. It will be taking input from officers and recommendations, as well.
Police Chief Calvin Williams says he's received mixed reviews from street officers. He told City Council that is common in other cities, but over time, officers grow more comfortable with the cameras.
"At some point this year, we'll make a decision if we're going to move forward with some dash cams," said Safety Director Michael McGrath.