Citizens who come into contact with Clinton Police officers conducting traffic stops, responding to incidents and investigating crimes will likely see one more eye looking back at them — and it will be recording.
The department is utilizing a still fairly-new wave of technology in the form of WatchGuard Vista body cameras, which offer a dynamic, panoramic, fish-eye lens view from the officer’s perspective. The department already has nine officers outfitted with the cameras and will soon expand that to the entire force thanks to the City Council’s approval at its Tuesday meeting.
“The cameras are another tool that we can use to review officer performance, deter suspect aggression and document evidence,” Clinton Police Chief Jay Tilley said. “Over time, these cameras will be invaluable.”
The high-definition camera has a switch that turns it on, an LED screen in which stops or incidents can be logged by type. The camera also records accompanying audio at the flip of the same switch, even having the capability of recording video for a minute prior if needed.
“It’s very user-friendly,” said Police Sgt. Adrian Mathews. “It’s a one-button operation. It not only safeguards the officer, but it makes us more transparent to the public. If there is a complaint that happens with interaction between the public and police, administration can view the body camera recording. This body camera doesn’t lie.”
It is the hope that complaints and use of force incidents go down, while prosecution in cases is aided.
A DWI stop is a prime example. It is one thing to read in an officer’s report that a motorist had slurred speech and bloodshot eyes, but the body camera is that extra eye taking high-quality, up-close video and audio of a drunken driver. The Clinton Police Department tested out a body camera more than a year back, but just recently purchased nine of them for officers in the field. The cameras cost between $850-$1,000 apiece.
“We are way ahead of the curve,” Tilley stated. “At this point, having half our police department armed with body cameras, probably exceeds most departments our size — and probably even some of the bigger departments.”
Currently, every single taser and patrol car has a camera. Not only will the in-car camera’s mobile view and panoramic view offer a good view of any traffic stop or incident, the body camera will offer that third view — the officer’s.
“You’re getting the entire traffic stop,” said Mathews.
And that is helpful not just for the officer, his report and the investigation and prosecution of cases, but it similarly makes them accountable to their supervisors and the public as a whole.
“Once it’s recorded,” said Mathews, “you can’t delete it. It’s technically always recording. We like that feature because there are going to be times where an officer has an event and might not hit that button to record.”
Mathews showed a video that to City Council and those in attendance at Tuesday night’s meeting, a simulated traffic stop that demonstrated the use of the camera.
“It’s crystal clear and it records for nine hours,” he said. “I think it has definitely benefited us. I am a big fan of the body camera. We’ve deployed them and they’ve been doing very well.”
The Watchguard Vista software includes Evidence Library Express, by which the videos taken with the body camera are quickly uploaded and filed through a simple docking system, similar to how a phone is charged.
“They can download their body camera and review their events,” Mathews noted.
In addition to the cost of the cameras, there is $5,000 annual price tag for cloud storage, but that stays the same regardless of the number of the cameras being used. “Everyday calls we receive they start to rack up in the system,” the sergeant said, noting the importance of the cloud cost.
As part of his demonstration to Council, Mathews showed the various different mounts for the cameras. He said officers are noticing that people’s eyes gravitate toward the camera when they are speaking. He said that’s a good thing. It means there is transparency for both parties, someone else looking in on the entire situation, Mathews noted.
“This weekend we had a very awful event we had to respond to and our body cameras were there,” Tilley remarked. “It not only showed that our officers acted with great restraint, but we were able to gather valuable evidence that led to some indictments for some very stupid people.”
With the use of body cameras still new, Tilley said the department will be working over the next few months on perfecting officers’ training and procedures on the use of them. Already the chief, like Mathews, has noticed benefits.
“The department has already witnessed the effect cameras have on people — both officers and witnesses — when they know their actions are being recorded,” Tilley noted. “The police department is committed to its tradition of integrity and professionalism and the body camera system will aid us in these efforts.”
Mathews’ presentation Tuesday night was barely wrapped up before Mayor Lew Starling expressed his personal feelings that the force should move forward with the purchase of enough body cameras to outfit all officers. The City Council backed that with a unanimous vote to amend the budget for eight more of them.
“We need to amend our budget now,” said Starling. “We want to be ahead of the curve. We cannot afford not to be. We’re getting some good things out of this, and we want to continue.”
Council agreed. Tilley said that was an important step for the department and the Clinton residents it is charged to serve and protect.
“Our mission is well supported by the City Council and the City staff,” the chief said, “and that was evident when the department received the go-ahead to purchase body cameras for the entire uniform patrol division.”
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.