Body cameras on police officers are ‘sign of the times’
Body cameras can be a benefit in helping with investigations and adding more transparency within the community according Sgt. Michael Roehl of the Watertown Police Department.
“Societywise, if it’s not on video it didn’t happen,” Roehl said.
The department has had 36 officers with body cameras since March and is going to work on getting cameras for the detectives.
“It’s kind of the sign of the times. All the departments are slowly switching to them and it’s something that we wanted to get on board with as soon as we were able to.”
In the past few years, there has been news about conflicts between police officers and citizens and using video from body cameras to investigate those issues.
“We have a pretty good relationship here in Watertown with our citizens and we’re trying to strengthen that and just make it that much stronger by having the body cameras if something were to ever come up,” he said.
Police officers turn on their body camera whenever they have contact with someone while they are working.
“There’s times when you can turn it off in the middle of a contact with somebody, like a domestic or sexual assault, where you’re getting into real sensitive information and personal stuff to protect their privacy,” Roehl said.
Police officers can stop recording by clicking the big button on the front of the body camera.
When a camera is on and an officer starts recording, Roehl said the video jumps 30 seconds back and starts recording from there but there is no audio during that time.
He said there is a button on the side that allows officers to mark certain points in a video. Roehl said an officer can use that button during an investigation to mark when they found a piece of evidence they want to document.
“So when the video comes up you’ll see that mark and you’ll go right to it and watch it,” he said.
At the end of a shift, a police officer takes the camera to the charging bay, where it charges the battery and downloads all the video.
Roehl said no one monitors the video unless there is important information.
“Usually there’s a reason why we’re going back to look at them,” he said.
He added that whenever any video is viewed, it is time stamped showing it was viewed and the officer reviewing the video has to add a note explaining why it was looked at.
The videos are saved for 120 days before they are deleted.
“If the video is needed as evidence or for an ongoing investigation of some sort, then it will be labeled with a case number and placed into evidence where it will be saved as long as all the other evidence is saved,” Roehl said.
Police officers also have access to the videos from their body cameras on an app on their cell phone.
But once the video is downloaded into the department’s system, an officer can no longer see it on their phone.
“When its on our phone, we can’t save it to our phone, we can’t edit it or do anything to it except look at them,” Roehl said.
The videos from the body cameras are considered open records and a records request is required to obtain the video.