Archive for Thursday, March 19, 2015

Edwardsville police implement new body cameras for officers

Bonner still testing its options; Basehor waiting for now

March 19, 2015

The Edwardsville Police Department is in the process of implementing some new technology, and body cameras are among those new items.

But the body cameras aren’t anything new — the department has been using them for the last three years. Providing body cameras for all officers has been suggested in the wake of the fatal shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old in Ferguson, Mo., and Edwardsville says in the last three years, they have found the cameras useful in recording police officers’ investigations, particularly when interviewing witnesses, victims or suspects on the scene, rather than having to accurately record everything with pen and paper.

“The audio and visual stuff that we get on those scenes is just more accurate and pertinent to the case,” Edwardsville Police Chief Mark Mathies said.

After Michael Brown’s shooting in August last year, President Barack Obama called for $75 million in funding for 50,000 to be used by police around the United States — a plan that has brought up questions of privacy rights for both officers and those they encounter. But Edwardsville’s department has a policy allowing officers to use the cameras at their own discretion and has not encountered any problems.

In addition to recording interviews, the body camera often is used to record searches or an officer’s investigative actions.

“They don’t need it when the video in the (patrol) car is running, say for a traffic stop,” Mathies said. “If on that traffic stop, we make an arrest, and then we need to search the car, we would then turn on the body video before we search the car, because sometimes people complain that we took $20 that was in the center consul, or that meth wasn’t there before and was planted.”

Mathies said the Edwardsville department identified technology enhancements as a priority objective in its 2009 Strategic Management Plan.

“The specific objective was to increase the type, effectiveness and level of use of both new and existing technology in order to provide more effective and efficient policing services to our community,” he said.

Since then, through comprehensive planning, the department has added in-car computers, in-car cameras, a "robust" records management system, Electronic Immobilization devices (Tasers), window tint meters, up-to-date office computers, electronic capabilities for submitting state reports, and, three years ago, personal video systems (body worn) issued to each officer.

“During the past two years, we also have utilized electronic ticketing, which has saved hundreds of hours of data entry by employees and automatically synchronizes with the police and court records management systems,” Mathies said.

Last year, the department assessed its technology systems and devices and found the in-car video and body worn video systems had improved greatly. The department applied for and obtained a state-level Justice Assistance Grant to upgrade those systems.

The department is currently in the process of installing and deploying a comprehensive video system manufactured by Digital Ally, in which the in-car camera and the body worn camera are interconnected. The system wirelessly downloads any recorded video evidence directly into a secure software system.

Bonner Springs is considering following in Edwardsville’s footsteps. The Bonner Springs Police department actually purchased about 15 body cameras a few years ago, but the technology wasn’t very durable at the time and all of the cameras broke over the years.

In August, the department announced it would test two different body-mounted cameras, one mounted on the officer’s chest and another that can be mounted to glasses or sunglasses.

Sgt. Mark Zaretski, who soon will replace retiring Chief John Haley, said the department has not yet determined a plan for body cameras.

Basehor Police Chief Lloyd Martley said Basehor was not considering purchasing body cameras at this time.

“There is still a lot of discussion going on about the pluses of minus of using them,” he said. “There is also some legislation pending that if passed could require all agencies to purchase and wear the body cameras. I am still interested to see how that plays out.”

Martley said some of the major concerns for his department are the cost of both the cameras and of storing the video data.

“There is no doubt that they are a valuable piece of equipment for the officers to have and can possibly provide additional information about situations that might occur, both good and bad,” he said. “I fully expect that sometime in the future we will purchase and use the body cameras, we are just not ready right now.”

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