Indiana Police Department Plans for Body Camera Program

Jeffersonville, Ind., is now poised to equip the officers within the city’s police department with a set of all new high-tech body-worn cameras, pending the approval of funding by the city council.

by Aprile Rickert, The Evening News and The Tribune / June 25, 2020
Shutterstock/Lutsenko_Oleksandr

(TNS) — Jeffersonville, Ind., is poised to equip city police officers with high-tech body-worn cameras, pending funding by the city council.

The city’s Board of Public Works and Safety took the first step on Wednesday, when it approved a contract with Axon 3 Technology for 75 body cameras. Each uniformed patrol officer from the rank of sergeant through patrolman would have a body camera. The contract was approved at Wednesday’s meeting and is contingent upon the city council funding the program — a vote that’s expected at the July 6 council meeting.

“Our police department is already leading by example with 21st century policing practices. We’re taking that even further with state-of-the-art body-worn cameras,” Mayor Mike Moore said in a news release. He indicated the goal is to fully implement the program by the end of summer. “This program will be part of the daily routine for our department as a way to boost accountability among our officers when interacting with the public.”

The cameras are always running in the background, and the technology will capture the previous 30 seconds of video before the officer hits the activation button. The camera will also turn on automatically when weapons are unholstered as well as activation of other officers’ cameras within a certain range.

The department will have policies in place for any officer who misuses or fails to adhere to any of the body-worn camera operating procedures.

“When our officers are called upon, the cameras will go on,” said Police Chief Kenny Kavanaugh. The department started in early May conducting a 10-camera pilot program to help guide the implementation of body-worn cameras. “They will be required to have their cameras on as part of our internal policy.”

Moore told the News and Tribune that city and police officials have been working toward implementing such a program for the past few years, but they encountered hurdles such as legislation mandating the way footage would be stored and used in a way that was cost-prohibitive for some.

“We’ve been interested in putting body cameras on our police officers for quite some time,” he said, adding that the cameras they will be using have a lot of capabilities that others they’ve looked at in recent years haven’t.

“This was a product we all liked and were comfortable with and I’m confident it will pass City Council as well,” he said. “I can’t imagine somebody being against this.”

The program comes at a time when more people across the U.S. and locally are calling for more transparency when it comes to police interactions. Body and dash cameras are a way to prove what happened during a stop, some say.

Jeffersonville resident Keith Freeman applauded the Jeffersonville Police Department for taking the steps toward using cameras. It’s something he said all departments should be doing, including Indiana State Police who also patrol the city.

Freeman spoke of two incidents over the past few years involving shootings after an ISP traffic stop in Southern Indiana. Oscar Kays was found guilty but mentally ill in an attempted murder case after shooting at an ISP trooper during a 2017 stop in downtown Jeffersonville.

More recently, 27-year-old Malcolm Williams was fatally shot by an ISP trooper during a traffic stop in Jeffersonville in April in which he was a passenger. The trooper reported he returned fire after Williams shot first.

“We have no idea what led up to that incident,” Freeman said. “As a person that’s been pulled over a few times, with him being the passenger for a stop that was for a headlight being out, I don’t know how anybody’s gun is drawn.”

That case remains under investigation, and friends and family of Williams and others have held recent protests calling for transparency in what happened. They have said they were told no footage exists. The News and Tribune previously reported that ISP does not use body cameras and the Sellersburg District has two dash cams available for use among 43 officers.

“There is only so much investigating you can do,” he said. “You can go on the word of the officer and the driver but that’s still not enough. “[Cameras are] the thing that would give you the best resemblance of truth.”

He added that having cameras can serve to protect the officers in some situations as well.

“If they’re doing their job right, then they can also say ‘hey here’s the proof I was doing what I was supposed to do,’” he said. “If you’re doing what you’re supposed to do and you have to take someone’s life, there’s the record of it.”

At its next meeting, the Jeffersonville City Council is expected to vote on the $552,000 needed to fund the program over the next five years, which includes equipment upgrades at the two-and-a-half- and five-year marks, council Vice President Scottie Maples said.

This vote follows recent meetings between Jeffersonville police and council members in small groups, to discuss how the program will work. It’s expected to be funded through a Cumulative Capital Development Fund slated for technology.

“The police department wants it, the City Council wants it, and as stewards of the city, I think it would be good for Jeffersonville,” Maples said.

He added that he feels the camera technology has come a long way in the past five years. The cameras they’ll be using don’t rely solely on an officer to activate them — several things can initiate recording, including a firearm being drawn from the officer’s holster.

“It takes the burden and the responsibility from the officer to activate in a deadly-force situation,” Maples said.

“I want to use this cutting-edge technology to ensure that our department remains transparent to the citizens it serves and protects,” said Moore, who has watched a demonstration of the body-worn cameras. “It’s an impressive system that is well worth the investment.”

©2020 The Evening News and The Tribune (Jeffersonville, Ind.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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