Police body cameras offer protection for officers, public

Take a close look at one of Monroe’s finest and you will see the newest addition to the department dress code — the body-worn camera.

Monroe police Lt. Kevin McKellick shows off the body-worn camera, now standard issue for all uniformed officers. — Brian Gioiele photo

All uniformed officers are now wearing this latest WatchGuard body-worn camera technology, which provides officers the ability to capture high-quality video evidence to aid in criminal investigation and second-by-second accounts to answer potential citizen complaints.

“The goal of the body-worn camera program is to make police work more transparent to the public,” said Monroe police Capt. Keith White, adding that the department’s move comes amidst a national push for such video devices on officers and in their vehicles.

“This offers a bird’s-eye view of what happened at any given event,” said the captain. “It also gives the officers their version, it’s all right there. This is what took place.”

With some in society taking a more antagonistic view of police officers, White said, the cameras provide “nice protection” for not only police officers against any allegations that may be made but also for the general public, since the video provides the clearest picture of what took place at any given incident.

“We’re able to review the videos, so if there is some type of discrepancy or the officer does not remember exactly what was said or done at the scene at the time, we can go back and look at it while we’re compiling our report,” said Lt. Kevin McKellick, head of the patrol division and point person on preparing officers in the equipment’s use.

“And for any complaints about an officer,” added McKellick, “we can go back and straighten out the record about what actually happened at the scene.”

The police department, which already has cameras in its vehicles, was able to add the body-worn cameras for no cost, said White, after obtaining a $93,000 grant to cover the purchase of the equipment and server storage space.

The WatchGuard body-worn camera being worn by all uniformed officers in Monroe. — Brian Gioiele photo

The video can be used as evidence in court and stays on the department’s server for a specific amount of time, depending on the incident. Then after a certain period of time, the video is overwritten, said the captain, depending on how the video was categorized by the officer at the scene.

While no specific concerns have been raised since news of body-worn cameras came to light, White said plans are in place to guarantee that police officers wearing body cameras in schools will not violate students’ privacy rights.

The Board of Education handled this issue last month, approving additional wording in the school resource officer (SRO) memo of understanding to include officers wearing body cameras on school property.

“Once we made sure students’ privacy was protected, we approved the change,” said board Chair Donna Lane last month about the SRO memo addition. “We are confident that the policy covers all our concerns and is well within the law.”

The new language states, “The school resource officer shall use body worn camera in accordance with the police department policy. Any video gathered in the school setting will be reviewed by the police department and the school administration for confidentiality up to the time of an arrest. Once an arrest has occurred, the video is at the sole discretion of the police department.”

Lane said the board wanted to make sure the department’s use of body cameras in the schools did not violate the Federal Educational Rights & Privacy Act (FERPA), which protects the privacy of student confidential records.

White said the department can “redact” students in the video, such as an innocent student seen in the background not involved in a particular incident an officer has on his body camera.

According to Lane, the board was satisfied with the department’s statement that the cameras would not be filming all day, but only if a situation arose in which video evidence was essential. Lane said that type of situation would happen mostly at the high school.

“We are also able to take out children’s faces, pixel them, so no one sees them,” said Lane. “Sound and voices can also be removed. All video will be reviewed by the school administration and police department, and all video will be kept on the town server, which is secured by the school administration and police department. No one else will have access.”

McKellick said cameras will not be rolling during situations when an officer is not on a call or when speaking with confidential informants. Monroe police are also first responders to medical emergencies, during which the cameras will also be off, said White.

“But when the officer is having an interaction with the public in law enforcement capacity, investigating some sort of crime, whether we roll up on it or are dispatched to it, you have the camera running in those situations,” added McKellick.

WatchGuard Video is the leading provider of mobile video solutions for law enforcement, having supplied in-car video systems and body-worn cameras along with evidence management software to approximately one-third of all law enforcement agencies in the United States and Canada.

McKellick said training involves instruction on using and charging the camera, downloading the video, and reviewing and categorizing the videos on the computer, and takes about an hour to complete. Each uniformed officer also received a manual with details about the device.

“Luckily, Monroe has had cameras in their cars for about 15 years,” said White. “There have been numerous incidents where that video has shed light on a particular incident where people said this happened or didn’t happen. We’re able to go back and have audio and video of what did take place and say what did or did not happen. It gives you the hindsight you would have never had without that.”

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