Local PDs Issue Body Cameras to Officers

A police body camera.
A police body camera.

Like many police departments across the country, some South Valley police departments are considering personnel body or lapel cameras for their officers. The Lemoore Police Department has been using body cameras for close to 10 years.

It started with two for traffic police, but quickly grew to four when the department discovered how useful the cameras were. The department now has enough to equip its on-duty staff, according to Lemoore Police Chief Darrell Smith. When an officer comes in from his shift, he has to download his entire recording, and the camera is put to use by another officer as soon as it is charged.

Smith and his staff are now seeking a further upgrade for the department and are planning on to ask for approval from the Lemoore City Council in early January. The proposed $35,000 upgrade would include 25 cameras, charging stations for each, and a three-year storage service of film with Evidence.com, which uploads and catalogs the film for numerous departments throughout the country.
Each officer would have his own camera as part of his equipment.

The proposed new Taser Axon Body Cameras have the ability to prerecord before they are actually turned on. They are actually working ahead of time and once turned on by an officer already have 30 seconds of data. The cameras are equipped with 130-degree lenses, providing a wide angle of view. They also have low-light capabilities.

“It’s second to none,” Smith said of this model of camera.

A study was performed by the Rialto Police Department in San Bernardino County, Smith said. Within the city of approximately 100,000 people, every officer on that force was supplied a camera and each patrol shift was assigned to controlled or experimental conditions during that yearlong time.

“The findings suggest more than a 50% reduction in the total number of incidents of use-of-force compared to control-conditions, and nearly ten times more citizens’ complaints in the 12-months prior to the experiment,” said authors of the study, Rialto Police Chief Tony Farrar and Ariel Barak, Ph.D., a Jerry Lee Fellow in experimental criminology and a teaching associate in the police executive program at Cambridge University.

In Lemoore, an officer is free to choose where to mount his camera, be it on his lapel, pocket, belt or hat.

“This is a tool to collaborate with an officer’s testimony,” Smith said, explaining that film is not to replace eyewitness accounts.

The district attorney’s office can easily access the footage it needs, along with the police department.

The cameras are also important for film footage if a complaint is made against an officer, Smith said. It can help negate or prove validity of that complaint.

“My officers should assume that they are being video-recorded all of the time,” he said. “Suspects should be aware that they are too.”

About five months ago, the Hanford Police Department added the same model body camera Lemoore would like to upgrade to for each of its 35 patrolling officers.

“We were looking at the types of complaints filed against our officers,” said Interim Hanford Police Chief Parker Sever. “This is an opportunity to get the officers’ point of view.”

Prior to getting the cameras, the force was seeing an uptick in officer complaints, Sever said. Since then, the department has not received one complaint. “I think, for the most part, it is going to benefit everyone involved,” he said. “But, it’s not the end-all answer.”

There are still going to be things that a camera may not see, such as things that happen with an officer’s intuition, he said. Also, the camera only captures 25-30 frames per second. It could miss a muzzle flash, he added. Likewise, the low-light capabilities of the camera may pick up something that the human eye may not see as clearly. What the camera picks up as a pack of cigarettes could be misconstrued by human vision in that low-light situation, he said.

Some officers were against it at first. However, after a couple of weeks of use, they all seem to appreciate the cameras. “I had one officer come into my office who said while he was opposed to it at first, he feels it is the best piece of equipment ever issued to him,” Sever said.

“We’re really happy with the cameras,” he added. “I believe they will become standard equipment (in law enforcement).”

Currently, the Visalia Police Department does not use body cameras. The majority of the department’s vehicles are equipped with a camera, however, said Sergeant Damon Maurice, public information officer. The department is now doing a feasibility study.

“It’s just a natural progression to look into body cameras,” he said.

The Visalia Police Department is trying to figure out just where it could find funding to equip its 80 to 90 officers, who are on duty citywide during a 24-hour period. The department hopes to approach the Visalia City Council in early 2015, Maurice said.

The Tulare Police Department is also considering a feasibility study in the future, said Sergeant Andy Garcia, public information officer.

“It’s just something we haven’t explored yet,” Garcia said.

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