SAN DIEGO An arm of the Department of Justice launched an online clearinghouse for information on body cameras Monday to assist the many law enforcement agencies considering outfitting officers with the technology.
The website, the National Body-Worn Camera Toolkit, was created by the Bureau of Justice Assistance to help agencies explore the technology. The digital guide includes information about body camera policies used by law enforcement departments around the world, research about the devices, and state laws currently in place.
An announcement about the site was made Monday at a panel discussion at the annual conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, held at the Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina. The three-day event featured a host of talks on police technology and practices. Body cameras were a hot topic, the subject of five presentations.
One of the panelists was San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman, who reiterated her support for the technology and cited numbers released in March that showed San Diego police officers who wore cameras used less force and received fewer complaints from citizens.
She also stood firmly behind some of the department’s body-camera policies, such as not releasing video to reporters.
“We don’t release video to the media, period,” she told the audience.
Zimmerman also talked candidly about how those policies may change, as departments explore what works best. To illustrate this, she noted the San Diego agency recently changed its body-camera policy after a veteran officer failed to turn on his camera on a call in which he ended up shooting and killing a man said to be menacing others with a knife. Later, police said he had a “shiny object” in his hand, not a knife.
“In the national conversation that is going on right now, we’re not being believed,” she said. “When it ends up being a ‘he said, she said’ we’re not being believed. By having that body-worn camera, it really assists in resolving so many instances.”
The other panelists spoke on a variety of body-camera topics including: the importance of keeping abreast with state policies as they are developed for the technology and the ongoing debate over when officers should record and when they shouldn’t. Nearly every speaker noted that body cameras have positively impacted community members.
In one instance, Major Chris Wiles of the Danville (Va.) Police Department, said video from an officer’s body camera helped a family better understand why their relative was arrested.
Wiles said an officer was on patrol when he received the description of a car that had been involved in a crime. He spotted a car that matched the description, pulled it over and arrested the driver at gunpoint. The driver wasn’t involved in the crime, though, and the family was upset about the arrest.
Wiles said department officials sat down with family members and they watched the body camera footage together.
“We were able to walk that family through what (the officer) did and why he did it,” the major said.
Wiles said 116 of his department’s 133 sworn officers are outfitted with cameras.