- Associated Press - Monday, December 22, 2014

BEDFORD, Ind. (AP) - No one in Lawrence County had heard of Michael Brown or Eric Garner when the Bedford Police Department first strapped body cameras on its officers and made the tools a part of each officer’s uniform.

Now, after those police killings in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City, the use of body cameras has turned into a hot debate throughout the nation, with President Barack Obama proposing an expenditure of $75 million to outfit 50,000 officers with body cameras.

“This isn’t new for us,” said Bedford Police Chief Dennis Parsley. “But it has been a great tool. They’ve been a positive factor many times, because a video camera doesn’t lie.”

The city of Bedford purchased the cameras for its police officers about 18 months ago. For many years, police officers have had video equipment in their cruisers to record traffic stops and other incidents. It began with VHS technology, then moved to DVD equipment.

As technology moved forward, the department began studying body cameras, which also can be mounted on the dashboard of the vehicle, to replace its previous option.

“We had an officer interested in this start researching a new option, when he found these,” Parsley told The Times-Mail (http://bit.ly/1vgpp5L ). “We tested it out, and it was wonderful.”

The camera, called a VIEVU, is the size of a Zippo lighter. It clips to the officer’s shirt and is worn daily. Previous video equipment turned on when the officer turned on his red lights. The body cameras are activated with a simple sliding action. The officer exits the car, turns on his radio and flips the camera on, said Sgt. Terry Moore of the Bedford Police Department.

“I feel more protected wearing it, especially from accusations,” Moore said.

Protection, prosecution

Those accusations against officers make the cameras an invaluable tool.

“We have had more than one incident where I’ve been called by a resident who is complaining about our officers’ behavior or who makes an allegation against our officers,” Parsley said. “All I have to do is look up the incident report and the video is attached to that report. Our officers can’t erase video. Only a couple administrators have the privileges to do that, so I view the video, which is accessed quickly, and we can usually solve the problem immediately.

“This isn’t for us to watch our officers. I trust our officers. They do their job and do it well, but this is something that protects our officers when they’re doing their jobs.”

The use of the cameras is included in the department’s standard operating procedures, requiring officers to wear and use the tools for every incident.

“If we get a complaint, and their camera wasn’t turned on, it’s on them,” Parsley said.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of body cameras is their use for prosecution. “The prosecutor loves them,” Parsley said. “It has made some cases.”

Videos from the cameras are usually downloaded by the officers at the end of their shifts, if it was a busy night. The audio is better than what was previously available through the dash cameras, and the cameras follow the officer, so if they have to go into a home, the camera is recording - which wasn’t always the case with the in-car cameras.

“There was some resistance to them at first,” Parsley said. “It is a change. No one wants ‘Big Brother’ watching, but they’ve been wonderful for us.”

Coming soon: More cameras

Although the Lawrence County Police Department has only been experimenting with body cameras up until this point, it is ready to purchase several for its deputies and detectives, said Sheriff Sam Craig.

“We’ve been talking about this for the past couple of years and have been experimenting with some different body cameras because the variables are all over the place, as is usually the case with technology,” Craig said. “In my opinion, these will be good for the public and good for law enforcement because of the accountability standards. In a situation where a citizen might normally act inappropriately, they might not because they’re being recorded. The same goes for police officers.

“In once instance, when we’ve used the body cameras, it showed the subject charging the officer, which was very beneficial in court. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and I think very often, that’s certainly the case.”

Each cruiser in the county fleet is outfitted with a dash camera as well as automated vehicle locator technology, and although both tools will remain in use even after the body cameras are purchased, Craig said the view from a vehicle can’t come close to the view from an officer’s chest.

“Quite frankly, when any camera is running, you’re capturing evidence for court,” Craig said. “The car camera is going to record the entire time you’re running (full lights and siren), but once you go into a residence, you lose that view for the most part, depending on the distance from the car and the way the car is parked at the scene.

“Body cameras, to us, are just like the AVL. (AVL provides the location of all the county police vehicles and monitors the speed they are driven.) It provides information; it’s a tool. If there is information we need to address, we can use those to address it. If there are false reports, we can investigate those as well. I received a call once that one of our officers was traveling 100 mph and erratically while responding to a call. We looked it up, and his top speed was 60 to 65 mph. These tools do help us do our jobs to the best of our abilities.

“Our goal in using the body cameras is accountability and prosecution. It will be very beneficial for law enforcement, our citizens and the prosecution.”

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Information from: The Times-Mail, http://www.tmnews.com

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