Body cameras ‘positive,’ chief says

Published 9:00 pm Wednesday, September 9, 2015

After a few months of using police body cameras, Suffolk Police Chief Thomas Bennett says the department has seen few equipment issues and has had a positive reaction to the cameras.

Every officer has been wearing the cameras since June. The city obtained the cameras at no cost by trading in old equipment.

“I haven’t heard anything negative,” Bennett said of the reaction from officers. “Everything I’ve heard has been positive. Some of the officers have told me after having it on for a little while, it’s like it’s not even there.”

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Several models of cameras are available to the officers. They can be hooked to the uniform, the side of the head or to a pair of specially made eyeglass frames.

Officers are required to turn the cameras on when performing law enforcement activities, such as a traffic stop or foot chase. All video is kept for 30 days. Officers are required to flag video that could be evidence in a court case, which is kept for a longer period of time.

Bennett said the video already has benefited a couple of officers who had complaints made against them by citizens.

“We’ve had a couple of situations where people have made complaints against officers, and then we viewed the video and it was ascertained what they said was nowhere near the truth of what happened,” Bennett said. “The camera told the truth of exactly what occurred.”

As a result, Bennett said, investigations against the officers were not pursued further, as might have taken place before the cameras were added.

Very few equipment and software issues have been reported, Bennett said. The few problems that have occurred have been remedied by the manufacturer right away.

“We’re real happy with what we got,” Bennett said. “We like the product. We like the warranty.”

Commonwealth’s Attorney Phil Ferguson has said the cameras have produced a heavier workload for his prosecutors, as they have to watch every video related to their cases. Interim City Manager Patrick Roberts has declined to approve more funding for Ferguson’s office at this time, preferring instead to collect additional data on the program for a longer period of time.

“I personally think that it’s going to cause more plea agreements,” Bennett said. “It just makes common sense, when you think about it.”