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Use of Body Cameras is Spreading Among Utah Police
The Park City, American Fork and Perry police have started equipping their officers with body cameras to record interactions with the public, and the Salt Lake City police are training their officers to adopt the new technology as well. Besides hard evidence that can help solve cases and clear up complaints, the cameras are meant to keep both the police and the public accountable.
“We’re not doing anything secretively. We want the public to know,” said Park City’s Capt. Phil Kirk. Besides evidence collection, accountability is a major function of the cameras. Reviewing the footage, Kirk has noticed that their officers are explaining everything more, not just for the public’s benefit, but for the cameras as well. “Everybody’s on a little better behavior.”
Perry Mayor Jerry Nelson told the Standard-Examiner that the cameras, which the police started wearing a few weeks ago, can protect the officers from unfounded complaints of excessive force, adding that “it keeps everybody above board, both the people they pull over and the officer themselves.”
A study out of California showed body cameras reduce both citizen complaints and officers’ use of force. That state’s Rialto Police Department saw an 88 percent decline in complaints during the year in which they were wearing cameras, compared with the year before when they were not, according to the International Herald Tribune. The Rialto police also used force 60 percent less that year than the year before.
But that added accountability comes with a learning curve: Finding that balance between facing the camera in the right direction and when that has to take a backseat so the officers can do their job safely.
The chest cameras that Park City, Perry and American Fork police use keep officers from having to wear sunglasses or a hat, like the Salt Lake City police’s, but the central placement means officers have to be more mindful of how they position themselves. As a general rule, officers try to stand angled away from people to keep their guns just out of reach. But that stance can point the lens the wrong way.
“There are advantages and disadvantages to each [model],” Kirk said. “… They’re taking a while to get used to.”
West Valley City Police Chief Lee Russo said when he served as police chief in Covington, Ky., he equipped his entire department with them. “I love them,” Russo said. “The bottom line is video doesn’t lie. They generally cleared an officer of any wrongdoing.”
He said they were also a positive addition when it came to filming interviews with witnesses and suspects, filming crime scenes and interacting with the public in general. They made resolving complaints about officer conduct “very swift.” He said his department also continued to use dash-cam video in addition to the body cameras, and he noted that there were sometimes issues where an unexpected incident happened right in front of an officer and there was no time to activate the body camera.
He said West Valley City also owns some body cameras thanks to a grant and has had discussions about using them department-wide. “It’s certainly a topic for discussion and consideration,” he said. “I’d love to do it, but 1. there are cost considerations and 2. there are a lot of infrastructure [processes] you need to have in place.”
The Salt Lake City police hope to outfit all of their first-line responders — a large number of whom comprise the patrol division — by their next fiscal year, which for them begins in July. Police Chief Chris Burbank has said he is confident that the cameras are the future of the police force. The SLCPD has stopped buying dashboard cameras for police cruisers and is redirecting those funds to body cameras.
“This can be a good thing,” ACLU of Utah Executive Director Karen McCreary said earlier this year. She looks forward to the evidence and transparency the videos could provide. But privacy is also a concern whenever it comes to collecting information on the public, such as how securely it is stored and who has access, and she looks forward to reviewing the finalized policies.
Burbank said the footage, which would be housed on a third-party company’s servers, is likely to be kept and disposed of on a similar schedule as the rest of SLCPD’s evidence. Only select people will have access to the videos and the power to delete them.
At least a few of Utah’s larger agencies are considering the technology. Ogden and Provo police and the Weber and Utah County Sheriff’s Offices are all exploring the possibility of adopting body cameras, but they have put them off for various reasons. Cost is a consideration, and most of them want to wait and see if the technology advances and makes the camera a more tantalizing buy.
For the full article, see http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/57270656-78/body-camera-cameras-department.html.csp?page=1