EPD, NAACP Pleased With Initial Success of Body Cameras

Published 03/06 2014 06:33PM

Updated 03/06 2014 06:49PM

They can fit in the size of your hand and they have been in the hands of Evansville Police officers for close to a month. But police and community leaders say the body-worn cameras have already had a big impact in just the first month.

The Evansville Police Department outfitted nearly 200 of it's officers with the body-worn cameras last month. The technology and it's $190,000 cost was paid for using drug seizure money, according to Evansville Police Sergeant Jason Cullum.

While many might attribute this sweeping policy change to the high-profile George Madison incident last August, Sgt. Cullum said the department had been researching and experimenting with body cameras for a couple years. The cameras must be turned on during official duties, according to department policies. Sgt. Cullum said this includes traffic stops, dispatched runs and similar activities. There are major consequences for officers who fail to comply with the new policy, according to Sgt. Cullum.

While there was some initial brush-back from older officers, Sgt. Cullum said the cameras have already paid some immediate dividends.

"We've had two officers get complaints filed against them and those officers were immediately exonerated because of the videos that were on there," Sgt. Cullum said. "[One complaint] came from a female. She alleged that the officer made very specific comments. We were able to watch the video and those comments were never made. In that case, it would have definitely been a 'he said, she said' and we could hit play and we would be done with it.

"We had a minoirity individual that was arrested. His claims to the sergeant when he was interviewed after the incident fell back to race. We were able to review the video itself and clearly that was not the case."

The technology isn't in place to solely protect the poliice from bogus complaints. Reverend Gerald Arnold, the President of the NAACP Evansville Chapter, said the body cameras can also protect the the public.

"History tells us and some of the incidents that we've had tell us that this is a good thing," Rev. Arnold said. "When the camera is on, you have to be on your best behavior."

"If we could go out and show exactly what happened, it's not so much that we can prove that the person is lying," Sgt. Cullum said. "It's that we can re-assure the community that we're doing a good job."

Studies suggest it's the cameras themselves that do a good job of protecting the police and the public. According to a study of the Rialto, CA Police Department, the number of complaints filed against officers wearing body cameras dropped 88%. The use of force, according to the study, also dropped 60%. These statistics came after just the first year of officers wearing body cameras.

"We really hope that we see those same numbers," Sgt. Cullum said. "Since we've only had them for about a month, it's a little hard to tell. A year from now we'll be able to see what numbers we had."

"If you're trying to instigate the situation to rev up the officer's engine, it will make you more accountable," Rev. Arnold said. "If the officer is being over-aggressive, it will make him or her more responsible. Those cameras become that other 'officer' that helps us interpret really what actually went wrong."

Sgt. Cullum said the cameras also save countless hours spent on internal investigations into officer complaints.

"With the video of one of the complaints, it was only seven minutes," Sgt. Cullum said. "It took the internal affairs seven minutes to end the investigation."

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