Tense feelings and recent confrontations between people and police are adding to what’s becoming a growing demand for officer body cameras.
“These cameras will absolutely be invaluable to us,” said Lt. Brad Horne, Utah Highway Patrol.
The Utah Highway Patrol uses body cameras now, and plans to have every trooper wearing one in not too distant future. Body cam footage documenting intense moments with police could soon be more of the norm.
“I wouldn’t do the job right now without a body camera,” said K9 Officer Ian Adams, West Jordan Police Dept.
K9 Officer Ian Adams has good reason why. Adams shot and injured a suspected criminal at Jordan Landing last July. Adams was wearing a body camera. It captured the shooting and the confrontation. It helped justify Adams’ use of force.
“I’m thankful that I had my camera on that day. I don’t even remember turning it on to tell you the truth,” said Adams.
Adams is one of 15 West Jordan officers who’ve been wearing a body camera for nearly two years. He definitely sees the benefits.
“Criminal prosecutions got easier, I no longer had to convince somebody that my memory was accurate, although it was. I could just show the prosecutor the video,” Adams said.
The West Jordan Police Chief loves the cameras so much, he plans to outfit all of his officers with them.
“If there’s an officer misconduct or officer makes a mistake and we can do some training with that, we can use that video for that as well,” said Chief Douglas Diamond, West Jordan Police Dept.
However, the cameras also come with their own set of problems. Loading and storing the data becomes expensive and timing consuming. In fact that’s the majority of the cost. We’re talking about tens of thousands of dollars just for data storage. Not every camera is created equal, they come in all shapes in sizes and don’t always work.
“Policing can be a dirty dangerous job, with a lot of stuff that happens that can damage this. I’ve been in foot pursuits where I’m chasing somebody and this falls off, it doesn’t give great video as it’s swinging around,” said Adams.
Some of those issues leave other police departments less enthused. Not every department has them or wants them, or agrees on how to use them. Simply turning the camera on, can be a questionable call.
“What are we doing on the back end to protect people’s privacy?” said Adams.
That’s why Utah lawmakers like Senator Stephen Urquhart are working on a bill requiring departments to put policies in place.
“I don’t want to mandate a one size fits all, I think that body cams are fairly new and we need to know how to best use them,” said Sen. Stephen Urquhart, (R) District 29.
Right now police departments are still experimenting with them. They may not calm tensions over claims of police brutality, but more departments like West Jordan are putting body cams into practice.
“They’re tremendous training tools, they’ve protected me as I go about doing my job,” Adams said.
When police claim this is a tool to do their job, they also want to reiterate body cameras are only one piece of the puzzle, and that they don’t tell the whole story. However, there are times when police body cameras can tell too much of the story. People’s privacy can become a problem in situations like medical calls, or when the camera captures people’s sensitive information. Police can’t always control what the camera captures. So if they get your social security number in frame, or show your prescription pills, they can’t easily edit that out, or blur it out. Again, they’re still trying to figure out how to use them, and protect people’s information at the same time.
Follow Brian Carlson on Twitter: @briancarlsontv