While many might attribute this sweeping policy change to the high-profile George Madison incident, EPD says its been researching and experimenting with video technology for a couple years. But until now, not every officer had a body camera and pushing the record button wasn't mandated by a strict policy.
EPD ordered around 180 cameras for a price tag of $190,000. The cameras were bought using drug forfeiture money. They now serve as an extra set of eyes and ears for police interactions on the street.
"If you're interacting with a uniformed officer with the Evansville Police Department -- you're being recorded," said Sgt. Jason Cullum, EPD's public information officer. "This is designed to capture as much as possible. Primary thing is its gonna have audio. No matter which way you're looking you're gonna be able to hear what's being said."
The cameras must be turned on during official duties. Cullum says this includes traffic stops, dispatched runs for reports, etc. There will be major consequences for officers who fail to comply with the new policy.
"Because of the way the policy is worded I wouldn't wanna be the officer that comes in on a regular basis and says 'Ah ya know Sarg things just happened so quick I just didn't have a chance to get it turned on,'" said Cullum.
As with all technology, the cameras aren't fool proof. They can malfunction, break, and then there's a human element -- the officer must remember to push record. Of course, there are some exceptions. Officers who don't record an entire event won't be punished in extreme circumstances, like the recent shooting near Hammerheads bar.
"[The officers] were just sitting there as a visual presence as the bar patrons were leaving. All the sudden three people in front of them with guns started firing shots at another person trying to kill him," said Cullum. "We can't write a policy that tells those officers that if you decide to get out and engage those guys and save that person's life that you're violating the policy because you didn't turn on your camera first." Cullum adds these instances are rare.
John Friend, D-City Council President, says he's heard some privacy concerns regarding the cameras. In particular, how the cameras fit in with HIPAA at hospitals.
"We do not want to have the feeling that patients feel that cameras are in there, they're being filmed," said Friend, adding that he believes the cameras are good thing but wants the city's legal advisors to double check to ensure the cameras do not violate people's privacy or put the city at risk of being sued.
Cullum says EPD will continue to follow HIPAA. Officers are able to record in some areas of the hospital as they are already being monitored by video surveillance, explained Cullum. He says the insides of patients rooms will not be recorded unless officers are responding to a public safety issue. For example, an unruly patient attacking hospital staff. Cullum says in that instance, HIPAA does not apply.
The cameras will have 32-gigabytes of storage, but officers will be required to upload all video to a server at the end of their shifts. Officers and their supervisors will be able to view the videos and edit general information such as the file name and location, but they will not be able to edit the video itself. Cullum says videos are unable to be deleted by anyone, as the server does not have a "delete" mechanism. The files can be burned to a disk, but the disk must be turned in to evidence. If a supervisor doesn't find an evidence voucher for the video, an officer could face punishment.
The cameras have been in circulation for about a week and a half but Cullum says many officers are still getting used to the new equipment. He says the officers will be allowed a brief learning curve, but soon the policy will be heavily enforced.
EPD says studies show keeping video recordings of police-citizen interactions dramatically decrease discourtesy complaints and use of force. The department believes the new devices will benefit both officers and the public.
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