Captain Matt Hamby demonstrates the activation and recording of body worn cameras that have been put in use by the Greer Police Department.
Six months after testing three manufacturers’ models, Police Chief Dan Reynolds, on Friday, ordered the cameras distributed to two patrol divisions on alternating shifts. The cameras cost $3,000 ($250 each plus air cards) and data storage is $86,000. “We worked the logistics out of the testing, determining what type of camera we would use and type of storage needed,” Reynolds said.
The cameras will be positioned on the officer’s shirt with enough air card memory to routinely record a day’s work. Videos are to be downloaded at the end of officers’ shifts. Officers will activate the cameras.
“It gives this organization more transparency and lets the public know we make every effort to monitor our officers’ behaviors and they do everything we expect them to be doing,” Reynolds told GreerToday.com. “Not that we have a lot of problems, but we never take it for granted that everything is just OK.”
Reynolds, acknowledging South Carolina ranks second-worst in the nation for violence against women, according to a report released today by the Violence Policy Center, said he expects a marked difference police testimony will make in the courtroom when introducing evidence collected on video.
“You got the victim, usually female, showing up in court and she changes her mind. They say, ‘it wasn’t that bad, it was no problem, we were just having an argument.’ If you capture her state of mind and her condition at the time it happened, it’s totally different,” Reynolds said.
The report ranked South Carolina behind Alaska, for women murdered by men. The state's rate of just over two women killed per 100,000 people in 2012 represents 50 known deaths, compared with 61 a year earlier, when the state was ranked No. 1. The study uses the latest data available from the FBI for crimes involving one male killing one female.
“You get the bruises, her crying, you get yelling and maybe this guy makes some statements that ‘I am going to whip your butt’, when the officer is there, and you capture all that. It’s going to be hard for her to say anything differently. People in court say why did you arrest this person? And I’m like, let me show you why I arrested him. They come back in court two to three weeks later and they’re are all lovey-dovey in the courtroom.”
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Reynolds hinted Greer police may be launching a more proactive interrogation strategy.
During the testing phase, for best video and value, Reynolds said the policy and procedure manual was developed using the International Association of Police Chiefs model as a guide. “We tweaked the policy to fit our circumstances,” Reynolds said.
Hamby said the cameras should reflect more accurate reports and training opportunities. “(Officers) can reference videos when writing the actual typed report. It will help them remember the details that might be otherwise difficult to remember . . . the suspect said this, or made comments,” Hamby said. “We hope some training opportunities come out of this when an officer believes it is helpful for training purposes how to do something right.”
There haven’t been any negative responses from the officers wearing the cameras during the testing, according to Hamby. “The officers feel a little more secure by wearing the cameras and some have even requested them.”
“When an officer gets outside his car, he’s more flexible and he can record the scene where in the past he didn’t have that capability,” Reynolds said. “He can walk around the outside and we have a visual of everything.”
The officers are responsible to turn on their cameras. “They are given some discretion and wherever somebody has a reasonable expectation of privacy you don’t turn it on,” Reynolds said, unless a warrant is issued. “It’s only for official use during an investigation or when an officer feels he needs evidence for court.”
Video cameras in police vehicles are turned on when the blue emergency lights are activated.
• Officers may be required to inform individuals that they are being recorded and individuals may decline to be recorded unless the it’s being made pursuant to an arrest or search of the residence or the individuals.
• Civilians are not allowed to review the recordings at the scene.
• Officers suspected of wrongdoing or involved in an officer-involved shooting or other serious use of control technique, the GPD can limit or restrict the officer from viewing the video file.
Policing with video cameras has come to the forefront with the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) scheduled to release a study of the body-worn camera program with recommendations and lessons learned. “It will be interesting to see what comes out of the COPS report,” Reynolds said.
“The body-worn cameras have been incredibly useful in accurately preserving information,” Chief Jason Parker of Dalton, Ga., said, in PERF’s latest newsletter.
The Spartanburg County Sheriff's department and Anderson City Police also use body wearing cameras.