WILMINGTON — Soon, officers of the Wilmington Police Department may be wearing a small black box the size of a pager beneath their badge or elsewhere on their chest. And that box will be recording.
Wilmington Police Chief Duane Weyand said he has requested two body cameras for 2016 in his budget request.
Weyand, in a written statement, says he wants body cameras for many reasons, including gathering evidence, managing risk, evaluating situations, adding accountability, protecting officers from false claims, as a cheaper alternative to cruiser cameras, or dash cams, and because citizens expect them.
“The other issue to be looked at is ‘How can we be better at what we do?’” Weyand wrote. “Reviewing video might be beneficial from a training perspective.”
Weyand added that, after years on the job, officers can get complacent, which can have deadly consequences.
“I think it provides accountability,” said Paul Moke, a professor of criminal justice at Wilmington College. “And I also think it provides evidence that both sides in a controversy can utilize and benefit from. So I think it’s sort of a win-win step to take for police departments” across the nation.
Weyand hopes to add four more cameras in 2017. They will be worn during shifts and issued by shift sergeants.
After evaluating four of them, Weyand chose cameras made by Taser, a company that also makes TASERS and provides digital evidence management. Weyand said the department intends to use the digital evidence management tool to manage data for the cameras.
Weyand does have some concerns, however, saying, “It has the potential to cause pain and anxiety in someone’s life.”
Moke said that literature on body cameras has been favorable and he doesn’t have any concerns about them, though he noted that it’s a new reform.
“The cameras are not perfect,” Weyand wrote. The lens’ angle might not see what the officer sees, an officer running may distort the video, and using or drawing a firearm could block the camera.
And, he has privacy concerns because the videos become public record and could quickly be posted on YouTube or some other medium.
“We deal with people when they are at their worst or caught in the most compromising position of their life,” Weyand wrote. “So it concerns me that everything we record will now be a public record.
“This one isolated moment in their life should not define them for who they are,” Weyand continued. “Most people think we deal with only the worst society has to offer. Unfortunately, we deal with doctors, lawyers, teachers, politicians, other police officers, and business professionals. We have contact with their children. So when some person is caught in a moment of their life they don’t want recorded, (it’s) too late.”
Moke said Weyand makes a valid point about privacy issues.
“But on the other hand, if the officer is standing where the officer has a right to be, I don’t see that as a serious concern,” Moke said.
He said most of the time, suspects will probably be in a public setting anyway.
Weyand said the department’s use of body cameras will complement its use of dash cameras.
“In a pursuit, the dash camera is best,” Weyand wrote. “If you try to record a pursuit with a body camera, you will be looking at the steering wheel.”
But, body cameras are more portable and go with officers. Weyand said police recently responded to a residence where parents reported their son for drug-related behavior.
On arrival, the son put both arms through the window and made a circular motion with them, cutting them on the glass.
Having a body camera could have recorded that incident providing proof on top of the officers’ reports.
Body cameras, at about $900, are also cheaper than dash cameras, which cost $4,900, according to Weyand, who cited a state-bid contract price.
Moke said he supported the police department for what it’s trying to do.
“It’s preventative,” Moke said. “It’s a step in the right direction for police.”
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510 or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.