Denver Police to start testing body-worn cameras while on patrol
Pretty soon, every shift for Denver Police officers could be like a COPS episode. In two weeks, 23 officers will begin a sixty-day period during which they will be wearing portable cameras that can capture their interaction with the public -- or not. Officers will be able to turn the cameras on or off at their discretion. After the pilot program, the higher-ups will decide if the police department will use the cameras full-time, and to what extent.
Big pics below.
The cameras, which have been used in cities such as Albuquerque and Miami, would provide increased transparency for a department that has had many recent cases of alleged excessive force. But that's only if the department deems the cameras worthwhile after the test period.
"The officers are going to be well versed in this over a sixty-day period of time and at that time will provide our findings based on a lot of selective criteria and methodology to our senior staff for further consideration of whether to go with one of these pieces or not to go with any of it," says Lieutenant Ernie Martinez. "At the same time, keep in mind it is a pilot project just to test and evaluate a new form of technology that we may or may not adopt in the near future."
Three of the four models officers will be using are a little larger than a cell phone and clip onto the front of a patrolman's uniform. One model clips on to a belt and connects to a headset that contains the camera. Each camera also records audio. These devices have been provided at no cost to the department by suppliers for the pilot period. Should the department decide to use them, Martinez says the cameras could cost anywhere between $100,000 and $500,000 a year, depending on how many cameras they chose to use.
"Video speaks a thousand different words and this gives us so much opportunity not only from a documentary standpoint, but as far as the courtroom," says Martinez. "It provides us evidence that otherwise probably wouldn't have been obtained.
Coming to an officer near you.
"It's a piece that wasn't there before," he continues. "It can provide very valuable information for the investigation."
Officers will upload their videos after each day and Martinez says the department will keep them for "a determined amount of time." Policies for these videos will closely follow that of the HALO cameras around town. Once the videos are uploaded, they will be available through the Freedom of Information Act, just like any other record the department keeps.
The increased transparency and documentation the cameras could go out the window if officers simply choose not to use the cameras. But this was not the chief concern when the department decided to give officers the on/off switch.
"We have a draft policy in place for this specific pilot program that it is at the officer's discretion to utilize these cameras and have it on or off," says Martinez. "We want to leave it that way for a lot of different reasons -- mainly officer safety reasons. Simply because when you're kicking off a brand new piece of equipment or any program, we don't want our officers having to think when they are going in to some kind of critical incident or investigation that they have to automatically slow down and think, 'Okay, do I have to turn this on or turn it off?' Those very important seconds can actually be a detriment to the officer's safety and the safety of the citizens they are going to protect."