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Whiteville Police look to use body cameras

By Jefferson Weaver, The News Reporter

Whiteville Police hope to purchase 20 Axon body cameras for use by the department, if funding can be secured.

Chief Jeff Rosier and Major Alan May gave a presentation on the plan Tuesday at the regular City Council meeting.

Body cameras – digital video devices that are worn by officers in the field, and record audio and video – are growing in popularity across the country, May explained. The cameras are useful both for recording evidence and reconciling witness statements with what actually happens on calls.

 
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In August 2018, the city approved a basic policy regarding body camera use, Rosier said, after two years of consideration and research. The chief said he met officials from Las Vegas at a national seminar, and grilled them about that department’s use of the devices.

“It’s a good tool for both the officer and the public,” he said.

May said that body cameras had their start in Great Britain, as an outgrowth of that country’s large number of street surveillance cameras. Nationally, body cameras grew in popularity after the riots in Ferguson, Missouri. The riots came about after an officer shot a suspect in self defense in 2014. The U.S. Justice Department provided $23.2 million in grant funding to law enforcement agencies for body cameras in the wake of Ferguson.

“That money is gone,” May said, ”but we are looking at other funding sources.”

The public perception of police accountability improves when officers have body cameras, May explained.  Officer safety is also enhanced.

“A camera that is going to record every second of an encounter is a deterrent to individuals who might want to cause trouble,” May said. “Just seeing the camera, and knowing they are being recorded, can defuse a situation.”

 
Axion Body Camera

Axion Body Camera

 

Nationwide, body cameras have had a positive benefit for many departments, May said.

Rialto, California, saw citizen complaints drop from 24 a year to three. Orlando, Fla., saw a 60 percent reduction in general citizen complaints and a 75 percent drop in use of force complaints. Phoenix, Az., saw complaints drop by 23 percent.

More than 70 percent of the officers in Las Vegas who were the target of complaints have been exonerated by body camera footage, May said.

By comparison, May said, Whiteville Police saw 11 complaints against officers in 2015, five the next year, six in 2017, and three in 2018. The city averaged 10 complaints a year of officers failing to follow procedure.

While the department doesn’t get very many complaints of undue force, May said, cameras can save the city money by cutting down in time spent on investigations of claims against officers.

“Just one I worked recently took 40 hours,” he explained. “That’s more than enough to pay for one camera.”

Cameras have the same effect on officers, May said.

“They are more likely to strictly follow procedure if they also know they’re being recorded,” he said. 

Under the city’s policy, supervisors will randomly check cameras and officers for compliance. Officers will be required to activate cameras as soon as they are dispatched on a call, and leave the camera on until an incident is over.

“If someone is waiting two hours for a tow truck, for example, there’s no reason to record that,” May said, “but while the investigation of an incident is active, the camera will be on.”

Of the three manufacturers contacted by the department, Rosier and May said Axon – the company best known for producing Tasers – offered the best deal. Funding was broken into five annual installments from each firm, May explained.  

BY Jefferson Weaver, The News Reporter

While Axon’s bid was the highest for five years of service, at $60,395 for 20 cameras, equipment and data storage, Watchguard and L3 do not offer data preservation, May explained. 

“That would mean we would have to establish a secure area, a sign-in system for the area, and purchase a computer server for storage,” Rosier said. Axon provides court-approved server storage as well as maintenance, free upgrades and other services.

City Manager Darren Currie said that the department has some surplus funding due to unfilled officer positions, and officials are investigating other funding sources as well.

“There’s a good chance we can locate the money for this in this year’s budget,” Currie said.

The department is aggressively pursuing additional funding for the camera program, May said, through the Governor’s Crime Commission, U.S. Dept. of Justice, and other grant sources. Rosier said the department has recognized sufficient funding in this year’s remaining budget to fund the start of the program.

While the City Council was concerned over shot and long term funding for the program, the board was largely supportive of the concept.

A date for the purchase and deployment of the cameras has not been finalized.

Stuart Rogers