By Stacy Kess
The Delaware County Sheriff’s Office is considering adding body-worn cameras to its arsenal of technology and will be testing them later this year.
Sheriff Russ Martin said a meeting with TASER, the company known for the Taser weapon and producer of body cameras for law enforcement, was the catalyst for testing the technology in Delaware County. He said the meeting included several other law enforcement agencies, and that a law enforcement agency in Northeast Ohio is currently testing the camera.
“I’ve seen officers exonerated as a result of video that shows the difficult job that they do,” Martin said. “The cruiser cameras (in use by law enforcement) are static. They don’t move with the officer. A lot of times evidence is lost as the officer is moving and it’s not captured on video. So we think there’s some real benefits of having video (from the body cam).”
Sydney Siegmeth, a TASER spokesperson who works with the AXON body-worn cameras and EVIDENCE.com divisions, said that is exactly the point of the new cameras.
“Right now the body worn cameras capture 90 percent more than the dash cams,” she said. “People are quickly adapting to this new technology and finding that it’s really necessary.”
Two body-worn cameras made by TASER, the AXON body with a 130-degree wide-angle lens and the AXON flex with a 75-degree wide-angle lens, are usable in most weather conditions and in low light. DCSO will be testing two of each type of camera later this year, Siegmeth said.
She said both types of cameras are an asset to law enforcement as encounters with officers are now frequently recorded from the public’s perspective.
“Everybody caries a cell phone these days and you can count on when there’s an encounter with a police officer, someones capturing it on their cell phone,” she said.
The body cam recording is not necessarily to counter the recording of the person’s encounter with law enforcement’s recording, but rather to create responsibility with all involved.
“There’s this shift taking place to ensure transparency and accountability with both law enforcement and the public,” Siegmeth said. “It enhances the level of trust. People just react differently when they know they’re being recorded, and that includes police officers.”
Martin said that’s exactly what he’s looking for in such technology.
“It’s holding all of us accountable, officers and the public,” he said.
The news of the possible use of body cameras on deputies came from Martin by Twitter Wednesday morning: “Considering body worn cameras. Will be testing a product later this year. Interested in public opinion regarding this technology.”
“That’s one of the reasons I put the Tweet out,” Martin said. “I’m interested in public opinion. Just as I’m interested in how the officers and union would view this.”
Response came from as far as the West Coast.
David Blake (@BlakeCandTGroup), owner of Blake Consulting and Training Group, an adjunct professor of Criminal Justice and police academy instructor at Delta College in California, responded: “@Sheriffrmartin if used correctly and with a solid plan inclusive of all effected parties it can benefit. If done incorrectly b ready 4 prob.”
Blake, a former police officer turned researcher into the psychology and physiology behind use of force in law enforcement said internal implementation of the technology — the policies put in place by the law enforcement agency on use of the cameras and the use of the recordings collected — is just as important as use in the field..
“It’s all about accountability all the way around for the citizens as well as the police,” he said. “There’s some rules that have to be established and some guidelines that have to be established before they’re put out to market and before they’re put into use.”
Martin said he agrees with Blake.
“Policies have to be in line with best practices,” he said.
Martin said he plans to put two of the test cameras in the field with deputies who volunteer to use the technology and two inside Delaware County Jail with corrections officers. The field tests will also involve figuring out data usage and storage; the ability for the recordings to be available under a public records request and how valuable that would be to the public and the department; and the use of the technology after encounters with the public.
Implementing this technology involves “ongoing discussion about privacy and protecting the privacy of many of our citizens while still capturing evidence for public safety,” he said. “Period.”
In addition to field tests, he said, he has to consider the capital outlay and maintenance costs as his department and the equipment used are tax-payer funded.
“It’s a big issue and you want to make sure you get a good return on investment,” Martin said. “So one thing we want to see is if tax payers see a value. Those are issues we have to grapple with.”
Not all the tweets were favorable to the use of the technology.
A tweet from @exarmyofficer1 13 hours after Martin sought public opinion on Twitter questioned the use from a civilian perspective.
“You don’t mind if we return the favor, do you?” he wrote.
The tweeter could not be reached directly for comment but responded to a request for more explanation by Delaware Gazette reporter Stacy Kess (@StacyMKess) via Twitter.
“@StacyMKess @Sheriffrmartin There are ample videos on YouTube and other reports of police being ‘camera shy’ after learning of being filmed,” he responded in a series of tweets. “Confiscation of recording devices, threats of arrest for ‘interfering with an officer duties’, and the like. …It’s seems the same mentality as when a suspect who is faced with the entire judicial system has the temerity … to seek council and then hears from those that hold him in a condescending tone he has “lawyered up” … or ‘stopped cooperating or is not cooperating’. I think it only prudent to have coo berating [sic] evidence. …I don’t buy the argument of if I have done nothing wrong I have no need to video or question their tactics. …Or perhaps the concise answer is, because I live in a free society, I can.”
Blake said the use of body cams in general have had a positive effect on encounters between law enforcement and the public, as evidenced by a Cambridge University study of the cameras in Rialto, California’s police department.
In that study, complaints against the police department dropped by about 88 percent.
More importantly, he said, use of force also fell. Although the study could not correlate why the drop, a 59 percent reduction in tactical force was noted.
Blake said the drawback to body-worn cameras is a loss of the officer’s perspective in the video.
“The unfortunate thing is that (a recording) is not remotely close to what is perceived by human beings,” he said.“You get a linear track of what played out. The human brain doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t lay down a linear track of information.”
Stress, hormones and training all affect an officer in the field and can effect the use of force.
What an officer sees during suspect engagement, and what that video camera records, are different because of perception, how the brain records perception and how the memory of the event is formed, he said. It may completely miss the tone of the situation or even visual angles the camera cannot reach.
“Some minor angle may not be picked up by that video tape depending on the angle it was recording,” Blake said. “Depending on where it’s placed — even if you place it on the officer’s forehead — it won’t pick up the perspective of the officer.”
Martin said the officer’s perspective will always be an important piece in describing an encounter with the public.
“I would agree with (Blake),” he said. “It’s up to the officer, as it always is, to articulate what they’re observing and what they’re feeling. (The camera is) not going to depict if the officer was in fear for his life.”
This is why the camera’s must be tested before full implementation, Martin said.
“I am interested in using technology to make our job better,” he said. “A picture or video is worth a thousand words. …Testing the cameras is simply the first step and there are a lot of hurdles that we have to get over before putting them in the field.”
Reporter Stacy Kess can be found on Twitter @StacyMKess.