Evans Police Department begins issuing body cameras to all officers, largest law enforcement agency in Weld to do so
The Tribune, Joe Moylan
Body camera study
On Wednesday, the Evans Police Department became the largest law enforcement agency in Weld County to begin issuing body-worn cameras to all of its sworn officers. A study of the Rialto Police Department in California by Los Angeles-based law firm Manning & Kass, Ellrod, Ramirez, Trester LLP shows use of force incidents dropped 59 percent and citizen complaints against police officers were reduced by 87.5 percent after the department began using body cameras.
Click here to view a copy of the report.
The way the public perceives officer-involved shootings and allegations of police brutality has changed dramatically in the wake of fatal incidents in Ferguson, Mo., Cleveland and New York City.
In December, near the end of the 113th Congress, U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., introduced the Camera Authorization and Maintenance Act of 2014. Although still waiting to be reintroduced in the 114th Congress, the bill would require all officers who work for law enforcement agencies that receive U.S. Department of Justice grant money to wear body-mounted cameras.
This week, the Evans Police Department beat that impending federal mandate to the punch when it became the largest law enforcement agency in Weld County to begin issuing body-worn cameras to all of its sworn officers.
On Wednesday, half of Evans’ officers received their TASER AXON body cameras.
By next Wednesday, the entire department will be using the new technology.
But Evans Police Chief Rick Brandt said Friday the decision to outfit all of his officers with body cameras was not made in response to Ferguson or to public outcry in the wake of last month’s officer-involved shooting death of Michael Rodriguez.
The department has been exploring the idea and testing different camera models for about the past three years.
When they first started testing the cameras three years ago, department officials saw them primarily as a way of documenting evidence. But given the pending action in Congress, it’s good timing, Brandt said.
“This wasn’t the plan three years ago, but given today’s environment, I hope these cameras also will create better transparency and trust between the community and police,” Brandt said. “A camera isn’t going to catch everything, so it’s not going to solve all of the social woes, but it is another tool for police to use, and I think it’s going to help.”
Instead of reacting to recent events, Brandt said he began looking at body cameras because video is one of the strongest pieces of evidence a prosecutor can have when trying criminal suspects. Body cameras also have been proven to drastically reduce the number of allegations of police misconduct by the public.
According to two recent studies of the Rialto, Calif., and Mesa, Ariz., police departments, public complaints against police dropped by 87.5 percent when officers began wearing body cameras. Police use-of-force incidents also declined 59 percent in Rialto and 75 percent in Mesa.
“There isn’t a lot of evidence to show why those numbers dropped so significantly — it could simply be because people act differently when they know they’re on camera,” Brandt said. “We see them being especially useful in determining whether or not allegations are accurate because we won’t have to try to weigh one person’s word against another. All of the evidence is right there in the video.”
Evans Officer Bobby Gallegos received his TASER AXON this week and said the 3.5-ounce camera is really user-friendly. Essentially, all an officer has to do is push the big button right in the middle of the unit. Two touches of the button turns the camera on.
Holding the button for three seconds turns the camera off. A series of beeps confirms for officers that the camera is recording, Gallegos said.
The TASER AXON is capable of recording high-definition quality video, has a 130-degree field of view and can record up to 12 hours of continuous video and sound, depending on quality settings.
Despite purchasing the cameras as a way to foster greater trust and transparency with the community, Brandt recognizes there may be some public skepticism about the cameras, considering they’re worthless if they’re not recording, as was the case with the LaSalle officer in last month’s fatal shooting.
“We expect that is going to happen initially, especially when an officer is responding to a hot call,” Brandt said. “We’re hoping officers get an opportunity to become familiar with them before anything serious happens and that eventually it just becomes second nature to start recording when responding to a call.”
In addition to practice, the police department implemented new body camera protocols, which state that officers must record all investigative contacts with the public, all self-initiated contacts — such as a traffic stop — and all situations that seem to escalate following an officer’s initial arrival at a scene. Additionally, officers may not stop recording midway through a police contact. Should an officer fail to record an incident, they must explain why in a written report.
The TASER AXON body cameras cost about $300 each, Brandt said. The department also purchased a $1,200 docking station, which downloads and sends videos to a storage server managed by TASER and accessed through the website www.EVIDENCE.com.
Brandt estimated the server costs in 2015 will be in the neighborhood of $7,500. All of those costs were approved by the Evans City Council when it signed off last year on Brandt’s request for a bump in funding.
All videos will be stored for 30 days, except those needed as evidence in criminal cases.
Although www.EVIDENCE.com provides officers with access to saved videos, there is no function to permit a video from being altered, Brandt said.