Police body cameras are a matter of record

WICHITA, Kansas – Body cameras are the latest trend in technology for police departments across the country including our own. In November, the Wichita Police Department revealed to KSN News that they planned to outfit the entire police department with body cameras by the end of 2015.

In December, city and police officials opened up about how they planned to pay for the endeavor but February marks the deadline for the city to create a policy for using the body cameras.

KSN wanted to find out how other cities have used their body cameras and the impact they’ve had, so we went to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to see how the program has worked out there. The results show that the overall impact is a mixed bag.

Since 2011, Albuquerque police have had all their officers out on the streets with body cameras. Within the city, there have been multiple officer involved shootings, one of the most controversial was the shooting of James Boyd, a homeless man, in March of last year. The entire encounter was caught on camera, and now the two police officers involved in the case are being charged with murder.

VIDEO EXTRA – KRQE | Albuquerque Police release video of police shooting | See full story on KRQE

The police department in Albuquerque has faced a lot of criticism from the community over police shootings and use of force. An investigation by the Department of Justice began in 2012, specifically based on those allegations. They released a 46 page letter finding reasonable cause to believe that APD engages in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force, including deadly force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Still, APD defends their work.

“This is not a perfect technology. Body cameras are not the magic pill. They’re not going to solve all officer-involved shootings. They’re not going to solve all uses of force,” said Tanner Tixier, public information officer for the APD.

Click to view Wichita Police Department report on Body Cameras
Click to view Wichita Police Department report on Body Cameras

The Wichita Police Department currently has 48 cameras on the street, but they plan to add up to 450 by the end of the year so that every officer on the street has a body camera.

“We’ve been working on this, meaning we want the cameras for the Wichita Police Department. To the critics — we’re getting there,” said Wichita interim police chief Nelson Mosley.

When body cameras were first deployed in 2011, the original policy for the APD mirrored current standard operating procedures in Wichita. That means they record any use of force incident, arrest, DUI stop, domestic violence case, or any situation that could lead to a citizen complaint. However, in 2012 that all changed.

EXTRA | Wichita Police Department body camera policy

“We don’t know the specifics of what drove the change, but at some point in 2012 they mandated all citizen contacts be recorded,” said Tixier.

But policies, no matter how well thought out, only work well if they’re enforced. In Albuquerque, the use of the cameras has been highly inconsistent. A police oversight commission found 60 cases where there was a failure to use a body camera in 2013 alone. The other issue is punishment. In their investigation, the Department of Justice said they found “very few examples of officers being reprimanded for failing to record force incidents. The fact that few officers were reprimanded for this failure suggests that supervisors have also failed to insist on this form of accountability.”

Body cameras are not the magic pill. They’re not going to solve all officer-involved shootings.
— Tanner Tixier, Albuquerque Police Department.

It’s something that officials with the ACLU of New Mexico has said has been an issue. “For several years now we have been very concerned about the failure to discipline officers when they’ve not properly used those cams,” said Peter Simonson, executive director with the organization. “There are also questions about officers turning off those cameras to edit out parts that could be incriminating to them.”

For many departments, like here in Wichita, the hope is that body cameras will bring about change similar to what was seen in Rialto, California. They reported a 60 percent reduction in use of force incidents and an 88 percent reduction in the number of citizen complaints directly because of body cameras, but if Albuquerque is any example, it tells a clear tale: body cameras only work if they’re used properly and if policies are properly enforced.

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