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Police Force & Body Cameras

As the public conversation continues about the appropriate use of police force, a number of state lawmakers are proposing the use of body-worn cameras by public safety personnel to document what happens during traffic stops and other interactions.

That has prompted a Secure Commonwealth Panel subcommittee to thoroughly examine all of the issues surrounding use of the cameras in the Commonwealth.  They turn out to be far more complex than just strapping on a camera and recording police business.

Panel members said the public should be told that police are using cameras and each person when an interaction is being recorded. Chesapeake Police Chief Kelvin Wright said that’s because one purpose of the cameras is to change behavior.

“It has changed officers’ attitudes and perceptions and, hopefully, their actions.  We have benefited in that we have derived an almost nearly 40%  decrease in citizen complaints over the last several years.”

His agency has used car or body cameras for two decades.  Wright said data storage, retention, and accessibility are huge challenges.

“We bought about five terabytes of storage. Within six months we had exhausted the five-terabyte limit. We have currently over 20 terabytes at this time because we retain everything for about 13 months.”

Prosecutors must review hours of recordings and also give them to defense attorneys. Courts must be able to play the DVDs.  Privacy concerns include whether to redact interviews with confidential witnesses and victims, or to record events at hospitals or schools. And overall, the systems are very expensive.

The recordings also must be tamper-proof.  Panel members stressed that each agency must train its personnel and develop policies that govern whether all police will use the cameras and whether every citizen contact should be recorded.

(Second from right) Chesapeake Police Chief Kelvin Wright explains how his agency uses body-worn cameras.

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