Junction cops to put cameras on uniforms

The future of the Grand Junction Police Department will be on camera.

What that means, they’re sorting out these days at 555 Ute Ave.

Within a year or two, the standard uniform of a Grand Junction patrol officer will have a body-worn camera. The agency has been field testing various models over the past nine months, Police Chief John Camper said in a recent interview.

“There’s a ton of good reasons to do it, but it can’t be something we go blindly into,” Camper said. “There are serious ramifications that haven’t been figured out yet, and we want to do this in a way that’s careful and well thought out.”

A study of body cameras, which was completed earlier this month by the Grand Junction Police Department’s services division, recommended local patrol officers be issued the equipment by 2016.

Typically worn on officers’ lapels, fixed on sunglasses or other upper-body locations, the cameras record audio and video with the intent of better being able to verify legitimate use-of-force complaints against officers, protect them against false allegations and possibly assist with criminal investigations.

“It’s our belief that five years from now (body cameras) will be as common as Tasers with officers on patrol in the United States,” the study concluded.

None of the Grand Valley’s police agencies currently uses the technology. Grand Junction and the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office removed dashboard-mounted cameras from patrol cars in 2012 in a move partially blamed on rising upkeep costs. They also complained about a limited, fixed view captured by the systems.

Don’t be surprised by future legislative pushes to make body cameras, or similar systems, mandated for use by police, Camper said.

“It’s our responsibility to stay ahead of those kinds of things,” he said.

When to use?

Under Colorado law, there’s no mandate for officers to announce to citizens that they are being recorded.

Aurora Police Department policy says body cameras must be turned on, “unless there is an articulable reason not to have it on,” the study says.

On the other extreme, some agencies leave it to discretion of officers “if he/she thinks the video could be of value.”

The Denver Police Department aims to outfit all patrol officers with the gear by 2015.

The Denver Post reported Wednesday that officers will be mandated to turn on the cameras every time they contact a citizen. Failure to do so would result in discipline.

“Should their use be mandatory on certain types of calls such as high-risk warrants, tactical responses, or when a subject is known to be agitated?” the Grand Junction study asked. “Should K-9 and SWAT use cameras?”

Privacy issues are raised, Camper noted. Are there circumstances when officers should be allowed to remove them?

“If you want to talk to me about a problem with your child, or a sexual assault, would you be willing to do it with that thing doing that?” the chief asked.

“We want people to feel free to speak to us.”

There are implications for interview practices and in the courtroom. Officers potentially could review their video before writing incident reports or arrest affidavits.

“In an (officer-involved) shooting investigation, for example, should we allow an officer to review their video before we interview them?” said Camper.

His agency currently has two officers on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation into the Aug. 25 fatal shooting of 29-year-old Joshua Crawford.

“On one hand, while they are a tool for everybody else, why wouldn’t they be a tool for the officer?” the chief asked.

 

Managing the video

Management of the material and retention policies must also be crafted.

An analysis of body cameras by the Orlando Sentinel newspaper said the Daytona Beach Police Department spends approximately $300,000 annually just to store the material.

“We’re not as big as Daytona, but cost of storage is a big concern to us,” Camper said. “It’s got to go somewhere.”

The cost of the units themselves ranges from $800 to several thousands of dollars depending on model. Camper said the city would be looking into buying approximately 50 to cover Grand Junction’s patrol division.

Similar discussions are happening in Fruita. Fruita Police Chief Judy Macy said the department hopes to have a pilot program for body cameras in 2015, budget permitting.


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