Friday, December 13, 2013
(Continued from page 2)
Wilton police officer Billie Martin holds a small Cop Vu camera that can be worn on an officer's uniform. A visual and audio recording of a recent incident, recorded by the camera, is displayed on a nearby computer screen.
Staff photo by David Leaming
A small video camera is clipped to the right chest pocket of Waterville police officer Damon Lefferts' uniform.
Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans
In central Maine, police are generally comfortable that their body-worn cameras will lead to evidence proving accusations periodically made against them are false. Those departments without wearable cameras said they would buy them if they had the money in the budget.
In other parts of the country, however, police unions and police chiefs have made national news for vehemently condemning their local officials for trying to buy the clip-on cameras and require their officers to wear them.
New York City's mayor and representatives from the police union recently condemned a federal judge's plan to require a sampling of officers to wear the tiny cameras, according to the Associated Press. The judge's order was part of an effort to spur reform in the 35,000-officer department, which has been criticized for singling out minorities in its "stop and frisk" program.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the cameras were unnecessary and would prove ineffective at monitoring police behavior.
Some people on both sides also voiced concern that the cameras would infringe on privacy rights.
As part of an experiment in Seattle, a group of police officers is required to wear cameras, following a threat of a lawsuit if reforms were not made within the department.
A Justice Department investigation found that one out of every five times a Seattle officer used force, the use was unconstitutional.
Representatives from the police union said the cameras invade citizen privacy, and they raised concerns that the deal requires police to record even if a citizen asks them to stop doing so.
In Maine, police are not required to disclose they are using the cameras, and Hanstein said his only reservation about the wearable cameras would be their use in situations in which a person reasonably would expect privacy.
For example, he said, no one should expect privacy if police are investigating an assault in a parking lot.
If an officer goes to someone's house for a noise complaint, however, and then quietly shoots video while walking around, Hanstein thinks that could violate privacy.
Wearable vs. cruiser cameras
Even in traffic stops, when cruiser cameras on dashboards typically are used, Wilcox said the mobile cameras are more useful.
She said dashboard cameras capture only partially the traffic stops and the conversation between the officer and the driver. The wearable camera allows a full recording shot of the driver and strengthens the evidence against drivers who have committed crimes.
For example, a drunken driver's responses to police would be laid bare.
"You can actually hear the person slurring their speech while they're trying to say the alphabet," Wilcox said.
When Wilcox became police chief in 2011, she said, the department cruiser cameras were broken, so the department had no way to record.
She said the $850 wearable cameras not only were a versatile recording option, but were the only affordable one compared to cruiser cameras, which can cost $4,000.
Wilcox said the cameras also allow for more comfortable interviews. She said police often record interviews, and instead of having witnesses come to the Police Department, the officers are able to interview people in their own homes, which is less intimidating.
She said copies of the footage are sent to the district attorney's office and the defendant's lawyer.
Wilcox said the cameras also have cleared up accusations made against her officers on multiple occasions.
"I'll invite the person with the complaint to come down to my office and review the incident," she said.
Wilcox said the recordings give her proof, and not just the officer's word, that the officer was not rude and didn't use excessive force against someone.
"I can see the recording and tell my guys acted with restraint," she said.
Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252