RCPD tests new body-worn cameras

The Digital Ally: FirstVu HD body cameras are already being used by the KSU Police to aid in the accurate documentation of their interactions with the public. In November 2014, the RCPD began utilizing the same technology. (Hannah Hunsinger | The Collegian)

Police-worn body cameras have recently been receiving much attention from the public and media. Many have said that the cameras should be required in order to help hold police officers and the public accountable for their actions, and Riley County Police Department Capt. Tim Hegarty said he agrees. RCPD is currently testing 11 body-worn cameras, although this test run has been in the makings since before body cameras became a “nationwide topic,” according to Hegarty.

“We wanted to be ready in case we were forced to (implement the body cameras),” Hegarty said.

Since November 2013, the Riley County Police Department began looking into different companies that sell body-worn cameras. In the summer of 2014, one company’s cameras were tested and, in November 2014, 11 cameras were bought to be assigned to officers without mobile computing, such as officers on bicycles.

“Every officer (issued a camera) went through orientation or boot camp style training,” Matthew Droge, RCPD public information officer, said.

Training included learning how the cameras function and how to adjust the settings, linking footage to cases and the best practices in using the cameras.

“The difficult part is remembering to turn on the camera,” Droge said.

According to Hegarty, the officers have been doing a good job in remembering to turn their cameras on. Even if the camera is turned on, though, some issues may arise.

“It’s a tool,” Hegarty said. “It’s technology. It’s not a solution.”

The officers were trained to use the cameras in situations in which they might take enforcement action, such as pulling a vehicle over or making an arrest. If a situation comes up where the officer has to respond quickly, the camera may be forgotten to be turned on, though Droge said that as the officers grow more familiar with the cameras, they will remember the cameras more easily. According to Droge, the batteries in the camera may die or it may be knocked off the officer in a high stress situation.

“(A camera) doesn’t work like a human eye,” Droge said.

The camera provides a limited view of a situation. If the officer sees something out of the corner of his or her eye, the camera will not record it. Although, Hegarty said that in many public-police interactions, bystanders will take videos on their cell phones.

“It felt important to have (a video) from our point of view,” Hegarty said.

Despite these possible complications, Droge and Hegarty said they believe that these cameras will be good for the police department.

“(The cameras are) a good tool for the public and officers,” Droge said.

The Riley County Police Department is not the first in Manhattan to implement the body-worn cameras. The K-State Police Department is already using the cameras and Maj. Don Stubbings, assistant director of the K-State police department, said he agrees that the cameras are a useful tool for police officers.

“(The cameras) allow officers to recall contacts,” Stubbings said. “It allows for more effective report writing.”

According to Droge, the cameras not only help officers working with the public, but also help in training. Police officers are trained in a reality-based training program. By using the cameras, individuals training can look back on their performance with the footage and make corrections from there.

“They allow us to train more intelligently,” Droge said.

Researching the different camera companies and testing them in the field were the first two of three phases in implementing the cameras. The final phase is deciding on how many cameras the police department will be receiving. The 11 cameras already purchased are part of a five-year contract with TASER International that costs $43,000, which includes warranties, AXON Flex head-mounted cameras and data storage.

The cameras themselves are $500 each, but data storage is the most expensive part, costing a minimum of $60,000 per year according to Hegarty. They are currently using the cloud, a network server, to store footage.

The next phase of the implementation decides if the police department will outfit all officers with the cameras or if the aging in-car camera system will be replaced. To provide all officers with cameras, $300,000 would be paid over five years. Because of these costs, the department cannot afford to both upgrade the current system and implement the new.

“It’s okay with (the police department) if the government body and public want to spend it,” Hegarty said.

Hegarty and Droge emphasize that these cameras may not be a complete solution to any problems that may arise between police officers and the public, but said they do put the department in a better position to deal with those complaints. With many police departments across the nation showing interest in these cameras, the RCPD is getting a head start in preparing for any possible changes.

“(Body-worn cameras) may be where the future is at,” Hegarty said.

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