North Texas Daily

Denton police adjust to body cameras

Denton police adjust to body cameras

Denton police adjust to body cameras
June 28
12:10 2015

Julian Gill | Staff Writer

As Denton police officers respond to calls on their 12-hour shifts, they are always accompanied by an extra set of eyes.

The Denton Police Department adopted a policy in April requiring all on-duty officers to wear body cameras.

“We wanted to do a better job of being transparent,” said Lieutenant Chris Summit.

Summit said he started shaping the idea for a policy in December 2013, and the shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, MO only bolstered his effort.

“It made this seem like a much better idea,” he said.

National demand for body cameras has escalated with more recent police brutality cases, but Summit said the cameras actually make things easier for the officers.

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After use cameras are hooked up to charger packs before the next shift takes them back out into the field. 

“One of the things that really drove us was that officers were starting to individually purchase [body cameras],” he said. “They want the protection from complaints and they want the evidence to go to court.”

Fort Worth, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio police departments have either implemented or experimented with a body camera system. UNT campus police also received several body cameras last week, according to the Denton PD social media manager Ryan Greeley.

In April, the Texas lawmakers approved a bill providing $10 million for grants to police departments wanting to implement a body camera system.

Summit said the Denton Police Department independently paid $105,000 for 80 cameras and their associated hardware before the bill was passed through the statehouse.

The pen-shaped cameras are wired to a lightweight battery pack and can store up to 10 hours of recorded video. The officer double taps a large button on the battery pack to begin recording, but soundless video is already saved 30 seconds prior to pressing record.

“The 30 second prior recording was a big purchase point,” Summit said. “Think about a buffer period that constantly overwrites, and when you hit record it stops the overwrite and records video and the 30 seconds prior.”

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The new body cameras come with a charger that sits comfortably in the front pocket of the officer’s uniform. 

Once a video is recorded, the officer categorizes it in the phone application AXON mobile.  The officer might list the video as a use of force, speeding, DWI, etc.

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To activate the camera the officer pushes on the center of the charger. 

It is then automatically uploaded into a database on evidence.com, where it is saved for 90 days before being automatically deleted from the system.

If they are going to be used as evidence in a criminal case, Summit changes the retention period based on the charge.

“A DWI video we keep for four years,” he said. “Within that four year window, we should have gone to court if we were going to go to court. The district attorney also maintains a hard copy.”

Summit organizes more than a terabyte of data on the website to make sure the officers can easily access them when they receive a complaint.

“If you tell the officer at a traffic stop, ‘you’re really rude I’m going to complain on you,’ he’s going to mark [the video] as confrontational,” he said. “That way the record of him not being rude is available through the time it takes to make a complaint.”

Aside from evidentiary purposes, the cameras may also serve as a calming agent in the field, according to an article in the Harvard Law Review.

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Live feed can be viewed on the officer’s phone through an app that is downloaded and synced with the camera.

The article, Considering Police Body Cameras, cited a February 2012 study in Rialto, California, where 54 police officers wore HD body cameras on “controlled shifts.” The study concluded “shifts without cameras experienced twice as many incidents of use of force as shifts with cameras.”

The article also noted the cameras will give the officers an increased amount of accountability.

“Once the locus of control shifts to the officers, the very organization meant to be held accountable will be able to prevent these videos from being created in the first instance or shared after the fact,” the article reads.

Summit says the department will release video to the public based on it’s own discretion.

“We really don’t have a requirement to release evidentiary video once it’s posted for court,” Summit said.

He also added that if an open records request for the video is granted by the city, they have the ability to redact or “blur” video.

Criminal justice senior Tommy Davis is an intern at the Denton County Sheriffs Office. He thinks officers should be held to a higher standard of accountability.

“If there’s one occupation that deserves to be under the harshest microscope it’s the police,” he said. “They need to own their mistakes because they’re not making hamburgers, they’re making decision to figuratively and sometimes literally end people’s lives.”

Featured Image: Denton Police Department uniforms have a new feature to their uniforms; cameras are now a required part of law enforcement. Hannah Ridings | Visuals Editor

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