Knightdale police plan to move to body-worn cameras

mhankerson@newsobserver.comApril 11, 2014 

— In the upcoming budget year, Knightdale police hope to make the switch from car-mounted cameras to cameras worn by officers to help with evidence, potential citizen complaints and the financial impact of equipping each patrol officer with a recording device.

Knightdale police have asked for money for three new body cameras that attach to officers and record interactions with residents, which will cost $700 each.

Police chief Jason Godwin told the town’s budget committee that in addition to being cheaper than cameras installed in cars, they provide footage car-mounted cameras were often missing because of the small visual frame and that they are permanently mounted to cars.

He said often, car cameras don’t record interactions as well as a body camera would.

The department has been using a handful of body cameras already, but as the department replaces old cars, Godwin said he wants to make sure officers assigned to new cars get body cameras.

That way, officers using older cars can use vehicle cameras and officers in newer cars will use body cameras, so no officer will be without a way to record interactions.

Godwin said footage from the body-worn cameras will help in legal situations, when footage needs to be reviewed, or any other situation where footage might need to be looked at.

“These devices are actually tools for the individual officer so they capture video and audio,” he said. “Because the officer is wearing it, it is going everywhere the officer goes and no report will ever be able to capture the situation the way video and audio does.”

Car-mounted cameras are mostly automatic, activated when an officer turns on his blue lights. Officers can also manually turn car cameras on, Godwin said.

Body cameras, however, have no automation. It is up to the officer to turn it on at the beginning of each interaction with a resident, although Godwin said there is no rule that the camera must come on when an officer turns on his or her blue lights.

The body cameras can be mounted to the windshield to catch what the old car cameras got, but Godwin said switching between a mounted camera and wearing it on the body isn’t practical for an officer who has to quickly leave the vehicle.

“We’ve elected to have them primarily on the person,” Godwin said.

Godwin mentioned body cameras will also help streamline the department’s workflow at the end of patrol shifts.

Car cameras require that a supervisor retrieve and work with the information, but body cameras make it easier for officers to retrieve and organize videos for storage.

“The officers are able to do a lot with the information,” Godwin said. “As a safeguard they can’t delete (anything), there’s still that supervisory protection. ... (Officers are) able to work with the files and send them or save them (and) categorize the files.”

Following larger forces

Body cameras are not new to law enforcement and some of the largest police forces in the country have recently started using them.

The Los Angeles police department, for example, began a trial using body-worn cameras in January and plans to purchase enough for its patrol officers after the trial period.

Some departments, like LAPD, have cited officer misconduct as one of the reasons to use the cameras, but Godwin said that is not the case with Knightdale’s Police Department.

He said the body-worn cameras can provide help in resolving citizen complaints against officers, but he did not look to the devices to solve behavioral problems within the department.

Godwin said in his three-year tenure, the annual total of complaints against officers has never reached the double-digits.

“(The body-worn cameras) do help remind everyone that there can be a post-examination of the interaction and that encourages us to be the best we can be,” he said.

Hankerson: 919-829-4826; Twitter: @easternwakenews

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