February 1, 2014

Police seek body cams

Camera tech would record everything officer sees

February 1, 2014 By Anita Reding Phoenix Staff Writer

Muskogee police officers have used dash cameras in their patrol cars for several years, but department officials say they would benefit from the newest body camera technology.

Police department administrators want to apply for a grant from the City of Muskogee Foundation to purchase the cameras and are planning to seek permission from the Muskogee City Council this week, said Deputy Chief Chad Farmer.

The estimate for the initial expense to equip Muskogee officers with body cams and provide data storage is approximately $250,000, he said.

The majority of the Muskogee Police Department cars have dash cameras. The cameras record events to DVDs which are then cataloged and stored at the station, Farmer said.

Each camera, which can record audio and video, was purchased by the police department for approximately $5,000.

If a lawsuit or a complaint is filed regarding an action by a police officer, finding the disk that recorded that event is tedious work, he said. The DVDs also take up space, which is limited at the department.

The department has been testing body cams from several different companies for more than a year, Farmer said.

Some of the models have cameras that mount on an officer’s shirt pocket, others clip to glasses or are placed above the ear.

The department is testing two from Taser. One of the officers who is currently testing the Taser body cams is Michael Lippmann.

“With the (body cam) camera system in place, it follows everywhere that my eyes are looking,” he said. “So, what I am seeing, the camera is seeing.”

“If you look at our dash cam system that we have right now, that’s a great system if the incident occurs right in front of the officer’s vehicle,” Lippmann said. “Anything outside of that scope of the viewing angle is not on camera.

“This replaces that aspect in that everything that I am seeing is being recorded and made available to be reviewed at a later time.”

The audio capabilities for the department’s dash cams are also limited, and audio will not be recorded if an officer is involved in a foot pursuit and is away from his squad car.

Supervisors also would be able to use the system, Lippman said. The camera system offers supervisors the capability to link into the system and observe officers in the field, which Lippman said would “hold both the officer and the system more accountable” if all action is being recorded.

The body cam system could also be “a very good teaching tool,” Lippman said, explaining that recruits could view their actions from while on patrol and receive immediate feedback from a trainer and be better prepared for the next call.

“We have used it on five SOT (Special Operations Team) call-out operations,” Lippman said. “Whenever the operation is over, we do our debrief ...  we’re able to watch the video and critique ourselves even better than we would just by having a verbal debrief after the fact.”

Body cameras could be useful when there are complaints made against the police department and when lawsuits are filed.

"Having these (body cameras) is like having an impartial witness," said Cpl. Michael Mahan. "The video is going to show what it's going to show."

City Attorney Roy Tucker said body cams would help the department with litigation issues and also complaints regarding an officer's action.

"It creates an additional evidentiary tool for litigation and for personnel issues," he said.

Since July 1, 2008, six cases alleging excessive force have been filed against the police department, Tucker said. One case is pending, and the others have been disposed of, he said.

One of the negative aspects of the department using body cams is the “ongoing, continual costs” regarding the storage of the recordings, Farmer said.

“That video has got to be stored somewhere,” he said.

There are several options for storage. The department can purchase the necessary equipment and store the videos, or pay for the information to be stored off-site.

The department’s policy is to keep recordings for three years.

“That expense will add up quickly,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out how much that’s going to cost.”

Initial purchase prices for the body cams the department is considering purchasing are between $400 and $900. The price will depend on the vendor and the type of camera purchased.

“We’re trying to get the best camera we can for the best price,” Farmer said.

If the department receives the necessary funds, approximately 70 cameras will be purchased, which can be installed in all patrol cars, plus a few for backup “in case one goes down,” he said.

At the end of their shifts, officers will place the recording system in the docking station, which will download and store the data. Muskogee police are looking at options regarding data storage, Farmer said.

Although the department will pay fees for digital storage, it will alleviate the manpower expense required to physically log and store the recordings. The system will also reduce the amount of physical storage space needed, Farmer said.

Department officials are also considering continuing to use the dash cameras in addition to body cameras.

Farmer said the police department will present a request to the city council this week to request a grant.

If the City Council approves the department’s request, a Letter of Intent will be sent to the foundation for consideration.

The police department also is planning to submit a request to the JAG (Justice Assistance Grant) Program, and Farmer said it’s possible that the city of Muskogee could budget money for the body cams.

Reach Anita Reding at (918) 684-2903 or areding@muskogeephoenix.com.

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