As the Carrboro Police Department makes plans to buy in-car and eventually body-mounted cameras for its officers, it is developing a policy the chief says will protect the rights of both the officers and the people they film.
Police Chief Walter Horton recently told the Board of Aldermen that he hopes to purchase eight car cameras in the coming year and add additional cameras each year as the department buys new vehicles.
The department has not budgeted the money to purchase any body cameras for officers this year.
Cameras will record traffic stops, searches, encounters with people on the street and for some investigations, Horton said.
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They can also be valuable tools for training officers in safety and how to handle difficult situations. Supervisors will be able to go back and review good or bad behavior by an officer and take appropriate action.
That could mean supporting the officer against a citizen’s complaint or it could mean disciplining or giving the officer additional training, depending on what the video shows, said Capt. Chris Atack.
“They’re making a good officer better and the problem officer obvious,” Atack said of the cameras.
The aldermen wanted to make sure the policy would protect the privacy and rights of the people the officers film.
Atack told them there will be no “big brother” aspect to the videos, and the proposed policy calls for the daily videos to be destroyed after 90 days.
“In law enforcement, we meet a lot of people on the worst day of their lives,” Atack said. “They might have had 364 wonderful days of their life that year, but they’re on the 365th day, when it’s the bottom of the pit for them, and here we are creating a record of that day.”
Unless a video is needed by the prosecutor, it will be destroyed, he said.
“We don’t want these just popping up out there on YouTube and making one person’s bad day forever,” Atack said.
The videos will be stored and processed on the department’s servers, not in the cloud, and only the chief will have the authority to release them, Horton said. If anyone else in the department leaks one of the videos, there will be severe consequences, he said.
The only person outside the Police Department who would not need preauthorization from the chief to obtain a video will be the district attorney.
In preparing the proposed policy, Atack spoke with other police departments that use cameras, the district attorney and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Sarah Preston, policy director for the ACLU of North Carolina, spoke at the Board of Aldermen meeting and thanked Horton and the aldermen for involving the organization in developing the policy.
“The ACLU believes that the police use of a body-mounted camera has the potential to be a win-win, but only if you really have a solid policy in place,” Preston said.
Body-mounted cameras discourage bad behavior by the police, as well as the public when they know they’re being recorded, Preston said.
Aldermen Damon Seils said the policy could become a model for other towns and departments to use.
Chapel Hill police already have cameras on most of their front-line vehicles, Lt. Josh Mecimore said Friday. They can be activate manually, by lights and siren and upon impact.