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More Indiana Police Departments Investing In Body Cameras

Body camera

[photo 2]

President Obama wants the federal government to help buy up to 50,000 body cameras for local police forces.

The proposal is part of a community policing initiative Obama announced earlier this week, in response to recent events in Ferguson, Mo.

A handful of departments in Indiana are already using the cameras, and several more are looking into the technology.

But officials outside the law enforcement world say departments need to be mindful of how they're using cameras.

How Body Cameras Work



When Bloomington police officer Matt Gilmore gets into his squad car, he has an extra set of eyes.

The Bloomington Police Department purchased 30 body cameras last year as part of a trial program.

The officers wear the cameras on their chests and flip them on during interactions with the public, giving an up-close perspective of what's happening.

"In this environment, we're dealing with all kinds of people and so having the ability to document that I think is important," said Bloomington Police Chief Mike Diekhoff. "And, I think the officers see how important it is also."

Once an officer's shift is over, the footage is downloaded to a server.

Interactions where nothing happens aren't saved, but those involving an arrest or other incidents are kept as evidence.

And police expect those recordings will play a crucial role in prosecuting cases.

"It's documenting what happens," Diekhoff said. "It's much like the in-car video cameras that we have and a lot of other departments have. Those record traffic stop type encounters because those are in the cars. That has gone a long way in really helping with convictions in drunk driving cases. I see this as kind of an extension of that."

Officers at the West Lafayette Police Department also wear body cameras.

The Greenwood Police Department is testing the technology as part of a pilot program.

Cameras Raise Concerns About Privacy



While police see the new technology as an important tool in crime fighting, others see it as an invasion of privacy.

Indiana University cybersecurity expert Fred Cate said the push to outfit police with body cameras is understandable, but daunting.

[pullquote]Who's going to want to have a word with a police officer if you know that everything you're saying is being recorded, including your image while talking?

-Fred Cate, cybersecurity expert[/pullquote]

"Already one of the things that people talk about that's fairly distinctive about U.S. policing is how difficult it is to engage with police now," Cate said. "You know, they're in cars, they wear body armor, and adding a camera is only going to add to that. Who's going to want to have a word with a police officer if you know that everything you're saying is being recorded, including your image while talking?"

Since most police departments require their officers to hit record for every interaction they have with the public, that means the cameras aren't rolling at all times. It also means the officer wearing the camera can control what is recorded.

As NPR reports, that's caused controversy in some communities:

The other big concern with police videos is control. In New Orleans, where all patrol officers started wearing the cameras this spring, the department has given officers mixed signals about when to press the record button, says Susan Hutson, the city's independent police monitor.

"We saw the department was struggling with that a little bit, trying to make sure that officers knew when they can turn it off and when they can't," Hutson says.

Even when an officer willfully refuses to record, it's not a fireable offense in New Orleans. Then there's the potential for technical glitches, which has long been an issue with the dashboard cameras. They frequently malfunction, and one of Hutson's staffers says it's "suspicious" how often the cameras seem to fail to record at crucial moments - a complaint heard in other cities.



Cate echoes those same concerns and argues the cameras should be rolling at all times.

"If you say, they're going to be able to turn it off so if they order food in a restaurant or when they're on break they're going to turn it off, then, how do you know it's going to turn back on, how do you know it's going to record the next interaction?" he said. "And, I think that's going to be really brutal to police."

There are also concerns about what will happen to the footage that's recorded and who will have access to the video.

Both the International Association of the Chiefs of Police and the Police Executive Research Forum have released recommendations for best practices regarding the use of body cams.

Departments across the country are looking to those models as they test and implement the devices.

More Departments Testing The Technology



The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department is launching a body camera pilot program within the next two weeks.

Several vendors are lending them the devices on a temporary basis.

"The pilot project will involve six officers representing our different districts, our six districts in the city," said Lt. Mark Wood. "So, we'll have representation from each one of those districts, a variety of people from different shifts who will then use those in their shifts on probably a six-week basis to get an idea of how the technology works and how it may help or hinder what they do."

[photo 3]

Once the trial period is over, IMPD will evaluate the program and decide whether to purchase the cameras, which they say could protect officers and citizens.

"Many times memories are different than somebody else's, their ability to recall is not necessarily what a camera would record," Wood said. "So, it gives us a better and more accurate encounter between police and the public."

[pullquote]It's transparency. And, so, I believe it lends credibility to what police officers do.

-Mike Diekhoff, Bloomington Police Chief[/pullquote]

Chief Diekhoff said that's what his officers are finding in Bloomington. He sees the cameras as a helpful tool in capturing an unbiased account of what happens while on patrol.

And Diekhoff said that's helping to build up trust.

"It's transparency," he said. "And, so, I believe it lends credibility to what police officers do."

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