DeKalb Police testing body cameras

DeKalb County Police Officer Michael Freeman displays two of the body cameras the department is testing. Photo illustration by Andrew Cauthen

DeKalb County police officers may soon have extra eyes watching when they go out on calls.

The department is in the process of testing a few types of body cameras.

The wearable video cameras will “basically show that officers are open to the public,” said Officer Michael Freeman, who is leading the testing phase for the cameras. “We want to make sure that what the public is seeing [is what] we did or they did [and] we have proof.

“This way we can come back and say, ‘On this day the officer had his body cam on and it shows that the officer did everything right.’” Freeman said. “t can save the county money in wrongful lawsuits. Or, it can show that maybe we need to do more training. We can actually look at the video and say, ‘The officer does it this way. We see some flaws in that technique, so let’s go back in and train our officers the correct way of doing stuff.’”

Freeman said the body cameras will be a training tool that can be used to protect the public, police officers.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” he said.

Additionally, the cameras will help provide “better evidence as far as cases—that’s one more piece of evidence we can put in there,” Freeman said.

The two main cameras the department is testing are the Vievu and TASER’s Axon. The department has tried a couple of other cameras “but we’re not even finishing those tests,” Freeman said.

“They were just way too costly and did not function as well as [advertised],” Freeman said.

Approximately a month ago, the department began talking with vendors and testing the body cameras.

“We’ve actually been testing body cameras about a year all together,” Freeman said.

One of the cameras was a headpiece “worn like glasses,” Freeman said. “We had some issues with that.”

The police department is planning eventually to equip all of its 690 uniformed officers, Freeman said.

Some uniformed officers received cameras Oct. 10 and the officers began testing them Oct. 13. The test is expected to last for a couple of months.

“We haven’t found any downsides,” Freeman said. “If it’s picking up officers doing the wrong thing, it’s actually benefiting us so we can correct it. So there’s no bad side or downside.

“The only issues we’re running into are legal issues in reference to how we wear it and when we can wear it in dealing with the public,” Freeman said.

The department’s attorneys are reviewing “legal statutes in reference to eavesdropping. When we can go in someone’s house and videotape is an issue. Some say we are not allowed to. Others say when we are called to the scene, it’s a police issue and we are allowed to [record]. That’s something we have to address. We don’t want to interfere with anyone’s civil rights,” Freeman said.

Body cameras are in use in various police departments around the country, Freeman said. Chicago police officers use body cameras any time they are on duty. Other departments use cameras at the officer’s discretion.

“We’re trying to keep it a full-time use where it’s on any time we have interaction with the public,” Freeman said.

“That way we can say the video is 100 percent untouchable; it’s unedited; it’s accurate.”

The costs for the devices vary from $199 to $2,000. Additional costs can be incurred if the department decides to store the recordings in a vendor’s virtual cloud, instead of on police department servers.

In 2012, the DeKalb police department began using a small, 2 gigabyte, MUVI ultra-compact digital camcorder that officers can clip onto the shirt pocket of uniforms. With a click of a button, officers can record video or sound or both wherever they are.

The cameras, which are still in use today, are used at the discretion of the officers who have them.

Officers determine on a case-by-case basis whether video they have taken needs to be downloaded and preserved.

Officers have the capability to download videos to computers in their squad cars. The videos are then transferred wirelessly to police department servers. Video that is downloaded for evidence must be burned to a disk and placed in the department’s evidence room.

Those cameras are not as durable and weatherproof as the ones now being tested, Freeman said. And because the video recordings are stored on SD memory cards, “those devices aren’t as useful as far as storage.”

At approximately 10 hours, the battery life of the cameras currently being tested is longer than the old cameras, Freeman said.

After the cameras are field tested, “we will get the reports in and find out the flaws and any complaints,” Freeman said. “We want the input from the officers. If the input from the officers isn’t good, then we will have to take that into account. If the officers don’t want to use it, we’ve got to find out why.”

Once a decision is made on the camera of choice for the department, police officials will take a budget request to the county administration and board of commissioners to fund the purchase of the cameras.

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