City Council approves funding to buy officer body cameras

City Council approves funding to buy officer body cameras


by BORA KIM / NBC Charlotte

Bio | Email | Follow: @BoraKimWCNC

Posted on April 15, 2014 at 5:09 AM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 15 at 5:20 AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Charlotte City Council approved funding Monday night, that will equip Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers with body cameras.

Around 30 CMPD officers tested the equipment during a pilot-period last year.  $250,000 of seized drug money will be used to purchase an undetermined number of cameras.

The department said the cameras are needed to supplement its aging in-camera camera system.

During the council meeting, a citizen asked how the information would be stored.

A CMPD representative said the department would adhere to existing privacy policies, saying video recorded for example, from motorcycles cameras cannot be accessed, altered or deleted by officers.

Cherryville Police Department received a $5,000 grant from a citizen, and have been using the same camera model since March.

Chief Chad Hawkins says nine of its uniformed patrol officers currently wear the cameras on their epaulette.

The program he says has been met with great success.

“A lot of people are using recording devices, they use phones, a lot of residential recording devices. I want our story out there. We want our side to be up," he said.

The cameras record daily interactions with the public. The 130 degree wide angle lens captures everything the officer sees at eye-level.

The cameras have the ability to retrieve 30 seconds of past video from the point the camera is activated.

Chief Hawkins says by the end of the week, all 14 officers will be equipped with the device.
The cameras are not always rolling. It  must be turned on by the officer, and are only used in specific calls for service.

“If I was called there during a dispute, a traffic stop, that is when we turn the camera on,” he said.

Chief Hawkins says officers have been instructed when to use the cameras.  He says there are strict policies in place when cameras must be turn off in situations where there is an expectation of privacy.  He cites, during strip searches,  at public restrooms, and medical facilities.

He says despite privacy concerns, the cameras are not used to target the general public.

“Of course, law enforcement officers have definitely gotten into trouble doing things they shouldn’t do, but a lot of times we field a lot of complaints that are frivolous," said Chief Hawkins.

"Again, this tells both sides of the story. When someone comes in and files a complaint, we look at the facts."

Chief Hawkins adds the cameras also help the department be more effective.

"It helps us to critique ourselves and we want to do things better, if we are not doing them as good as we can be, we want to change it. We want to do it better,” he said.

While the cameras may hold officers accountable for their actions, Chief Hawkins hopes it changes the public's behavior towards officers.

“When we know the camera is watching, we modify our behavior. If citizens know that an officer is video taping them, if they were going to do something, that they shouldn’t do, maybe it will deter them from doing that,” he said.

The lipstick-size camera can be pinned to the officer’s uniform, or attached to their sunglasses.

The magnetic cord attaches to the back of the lens and is connected to a battery pack that can last up to 12 hours. 

Officers push the button twice to activate the recording. It's then followed by two beeps.  The constant beeping informs officers when the device is recording. 

Cherryville Police Department protocol is that the video is download daily. That information is stored for 90 days, and kept only for pending cases.

There is also a separate app that helps officers out in the field check whether the device is properly recording.  The app allows officers to see how the device is recording without having to download video to a computer in-house.

Chief Hawkins says the department was not mandated to carry cameras, but chose to go in this direction when research showed body cameras were more economical, than in-car cameras, which the department does not have.

Arizona-based Taser Company supplies Cherryville Police Department, and says an estimated 40 law enforcement agencies in North Carolina currently use their product.