While police departments across the state consider the president’s appeal for body cameras, the town’s police department has already decided they will implement them.
When exactly that will happen is unclear, but police say it could happen within the next three to five years.
Raleigh Police spokesman Jim Sughrue said RPD has not proposed officers begin wearing body cameras.
Chris Hagwood, a Garner police lieutenant, has been researching body cameras for more than and year and figuring out how to best implement them into the department.
The department has piloted a couple of models to find out which of those would be more effective. Hagwood said the cameras are small, less than half the size of an iPhone.
“We’re using them so that we can learn from it because before we roll it out department-wide, we need to have all our policies and procedures in place,” Hagwood said. “So we’re developing them now.”
The positives of the cameras he said, are having a view that follows the officer and being able to record situations from the officer’s perspective.
Hagwood said the negatives are the limitations of the equipment.
“It’s not like it can hover over the officer and capture everything,” Hagwood said. “It’s got a limited field of view, and just because the camera saw it, it doesn’t always mean the officer saw it. It could be a false perspective of what the officer saw.
There are 63 officers in the department. Having a camera on every officer could cost between $65,000 and $70,000, plus annual maintenance costs, Garner police Chief Brandon Zuidema said.
Not all of that cost would be paid for by the town.
President Barack Obama announced he would provide $75 million to help local law-enforcement agencies purchase about 50,000 devices.
“We are to the point where they are probably the next ‘in-car’ camera,” Zuidema said. “If you look back to probably 15 to 20 years ago almost nobody had an ‘in-car’ camera and now in today’s day-in-age, it’s almost impossible to find anyone working without an ‘in-car’ camera in a police car. And so body cameras is sort of the next evolution of that.”
Some cameras can be mounted on an officer’s glasses, on his or her shoulder, chest or belt.
In recent months, police departments like in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island have been under fire for using force that resulted in the deaths of black men. It has created mistrust between police departments and its citizens.
According to the department’s 2013 numbers, Garner police uses force in less than 0.1 percent of all documented contacts. There were 29 incidents that resulted in 44 separate applications of force by individual officers.
There were four complaints of serious misconduct filed against police department employees. Three of the complaints contained more than one allegation of wrongdoing. In all, there were eight allegations of violations of policies.
Of the eight allegations, two were sustained or indicated there was sufficient evidence to prove the allegations. In two cases, there was not enough evidence. And in four, there was enough evidence to exonerate the officer accused.
Zuidema said the cameras will increase accountability in the department and differentiate between legitimate and false complaints, something that the car cameras helped with.
“When people realize they’re being recorded they are much less likely to then later say something happened that didn’t because they know they were recorded and know we have video of exactly what the interaction was.”
“And our folks make mistakes,” he said. “I make mistakes. If you don’t make a mistake you’re not trying very hard because we’re always running across things we have never done before.”
He said he teaches officers to own up to mistakes and to learn from them.
Zuidema said he paid attention to the Ferguson case to learn from any mistakes that may have been.
“It’s a tragedy,” he said. “It’s a tragedy for everyone involved. It’s a tragedy for the family of Michael Brown, it’s a tragedy for Officer Wilson. It’s a tragedy for that community. Nobody comes out of that with anything positive.”