For years, a handful of officers without patrol cars, such as motorcycle, bicycle and foot-patrol units, have used body cameras. Police officials recently decided to expand them to all patrol and other frontline officers.
(TNS) — When High Point police officials decided earlier this year to deploy body-worn cameras throughout the department, it wasn't in response to controversy.
High-profile national cases like the death of George Floyd while in the custody of police in Minneapolis have sparked more debate about body cameras as a means of reform by making law enforcement more accountable and transparent in its dealings with the public.
But for High Point, it was a matter of technical, legal and financial practicality, police Lt. Matt Truitt said.
"You had to let the law catch up with the technology — who can see (body camera footage), how it's viewed, how it's stored," he said. "Years ago, when these things first came along, they were kind of seen as 'Big Brother' by the officers. Now, they welcome it. They're designed not just to protect the citizens but officers as well, when people make claims that turn out to be unfounded."
The technology isn't totally new to the department.
For years, a handful of officers without patrol cars, such as motorcycle, bicycle and foot-patrol units, have used body cameras.
But this spring, police decided to expand them to all patrol and other frontline officers.
The City Council approved the purchase of 135 body cameras, with accompanying in-car camera systems. Truitt said they are gradually being distributed to patrol officers as the devices come in from the vendor. So far, about 15 of them are in the field.
"I think it's a big deal," Councilman Chris Williams said. "I've always wanted it, but at the same time, I'm confident in the training that our police have."
The mere presence of the cameras can be just as valuable in interactions between police and the public as the actual footage, he said.
"I think it helps protect both parties on each side of the incident," Williams said. "Since I got on council, (former Councilman) Jeff Golden and I have discussed them a lot with others. In the past, a big chunk of it was cost, and then the restrictions on releasing the video."
State law has since made it clear that a Superior Court judge's order is required for body-camera video to be released to the public, including the news media.
With the law governing the footage settled, the city came up with a financing plan for the $1.38 million purchase over four years, using federal grants to help offset the cost.
Truitt said all of the department's sworn personnel have undergone training for the new systems, even though not all officers will use them.
Police have long used in-car cameras mounted on the front windshield that record traffic stops and other interactions in front of and inside officers' vehicles.
Truitt said the technology of the new systems is vastly improved, and police expect both the in-car and body-worn camera components to offer expanded evidence-gathering capabilities.
He said one body camera that's used by an officer who works the downtown area has already helped resolve a use-of-force complaint, when the footage showed the officer acted in accordance with the law and police policy.
Truitt said the body cameras have to be activated manually by the officers when they're in the field. The department's general orders, he said, spell out that in "pretty much any interaction (with the public), it needs to be on."
©2020 The High Point Enterprise, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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