Farmersville Police Dept. goes live

Smile Farmersville, because you’re on camera.
The Farmersville Police Department went live a few weeks ago when they implemented the use of the Tazer Axon body-worn police camera. FPD outfitted every uniformed officer, except for the school resource officer, with the body cameras. The cameras are on all the time but only record when the officer activates the camera. The camera then begins recording events from 30 seconds prior to activation and sends the info to a recording facility. Once recorded the officer cannot change or delete the recording.
Farmersville Police Officer Ashley Hettick said she liked the new body cameras because they protect both the police officer and the public.
“They [the cameras] alleviate a lot of questions people may have,” she said. “They also help in creating a more detailed report and if there are any complaints the footage can be reviewed. It helps knowing that I have proof of my actions if there are any complaints.”
The cameras can be worn on the collar, mounted on glasses or attached to a baseball cap. Farmersville Police Chief Mario Krstic said providing the officer’s point of view will give new insight into training techniques, produce more accurate reports and more adequately address any public complaints. Krstic also pointed out that officers also understand that their actions are being monitored so that may change the way they interact with a suspect.
“A police body camera could have completely changed the situation in Ferguson,” said Krstic, referring to the officer involved shooting that sparked race riots in Missouri last year. “We would have known exactly what happened. If there is a complaint about an officers actions we can look at the video. You would be surprised at how many complaints are dropped once the person realizes there is footage of the incident.”
For those worried about privacy Krstic addressed the issue. Krstic said all of the footage is stored offsite in a secure cloud, an Internet-based digital storage based, maintained by Tazer, a trusted name in law enforcement and personal defense. Administrators, such as Krstic have access to the footage through a password protected firewall through the private company.
“We have administrative control to blur out faces or anything else we feel is inappropriate when we send video to the District Attorney’s office,” he said. “Also once an officer realizes a situation is calm they will turn off the recording. Especially when they are inside a residence and people may not be fully dressed.”
Lt. Jay Brock said the camera systems cost about $600 per unit, or about $6,000 for the entire department. The purchase was paid for out of the department’s annual budget in the General Fund.
Farmersville is the second law enforcement agency in Tulare County to outfit all of its officers with body cameras. Last summer, the Exeter Police Department became the first in Tulare County to issue body cameras to every officer. In all, 20 officers – including lieutenants, sergeants, detectives, patrol and reserve officers – are wearing high definition video body cameras, the same worn by officers in Ferguson, Mo.
Exeter officers tested out a camera made by Taser but instead went with the portable hard drive and battery system known as FirstVU (pronounced First View) HD. Because HD video takes a lot of hard drive space to store, Exeter’s system records over itself every 60 seconds unless the officer pushes the record button. Hitting record overrides the recycling memory feature and records continuously until the officer stops the session.
All of Exeter’s video is stored in the portable hard drive attached to the camera and stays with the officer until he or she turns it in for evidence. Once the officer downloads the information from the portable hard drive to the department’s 10 terrabyte server, it cannot be altered and there is an audit trail that will show who has viewed the video. EPD prohibits the use of the cameras unless the officer is on duty. The hard drives and cameras are protected with a rubberized housing that is extremely durable, preventing the loss of video if it hits the ground or is under pressure.
In the six months that most of the officers have been using the cameras, Exeter brass said the most beneficial use has been for officer safety. Recording interactions with witnesses or a suspects keeps the officers hands free and head up to defend themselves when they would normally be taking down notes. And when officers go back to write their reports, they can transcribe the conversation verbatim from the video instead of relying on handwritten notes from the field.
Law enforcement authorities throughout the country say the biggest questions with body cameras are privacy issues. Exeter said its police is to delete “non-evidentiary” video after 90 days. None of the videos can be viewed or released to the public and cannot be posted on social media. Attorneys representing the parties involved in the incident or crime can request copies and they can also be used as admitted evidence in court.
The Department of Justice published a report entitled “Body-Worn Cameras and Lessons Learned” in which they conducted a one year study of the Rialto California Police Department that had implemented the use of cameras. The study found:
• 60% reduction in officer use of force incidents following camera deployment
• Half the number of use of force incidents for shifts with cameras compared to shifts without cameras
• 88% reduction in number of citizen complaints between the year prior to and following camera deployment
Chuck Wexler, Executive Director Police Executive Research Forum said in the report, “Body-worn cameras can help improve the high-quality public service expected of police officers and promote the perceived legitimacy and sense of procedural justice that communities have about their police departments. Furthermore, departments that are already deploying body-worn cameras tell us that the presence of cameras often improves the performance of officers as well as the conduct of the community members who are recorded. This is an important advance in policing. And when officers or members of the public break the law or behave badly, body-worn cameras can create a public record that allows the entire community to see what really happened.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also weighed in on the use of police body cameras. Scott Greenwood of the (ACLU) said at the September 2013 conference,” The average interaction between an officer and a citizen in an urban area is already recorded in multiple ways. The citizen may record it on his phone. If there is some conflict happening, one or more witnesses may record it. Often there are fixed security cameras nearby that capture the interaction. So the thing that makes the most sense—if you really want accountability both for your officers and for the people they interact with—is to also have video from the officer’s perspective.”

Start typing and press Enter to search