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Dallas Police Chief Considers Body Cams For All Officers

(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Bud Gillett
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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Dallas police may be on the verge of adding body cameras to every officer on the street.

“I think that’s the future of law enforcement,” said Dallas Police Chief David O. Brown at Thursday’s news conference regarding shooting investigation of a mentally ill Dallas man.

Chief Brown said if the officers involves had been wearing body cameras, it would have likely sped up initial stages of the investigation.

Although a neighbor provided home security surveillance video, which contradicted the officer’s initial statements, Chief Brown indicated it took several attempts to verify that the video had not been altered.  The video also included a time stamp hiding some of the activity, which police had to go through several steps to removed.

Body cams would have been helpful in that situation and many others, said Brown.  “And we’re looking to pilot something and try to find funding sources for it,” he told reporters.

WatchGuard Video of Allen makes police dash cameras and sells body cameras produced by another manufacturer.   Jason Stuczynski demonstated one for CBS 11 News.

“This is an on-body camera system that can be worn really any place that’s convenient for an officer,” he said of a model that clips on like a pager.

“And with this in place it now becomes a one-switch operation. It’s either off like it is now, or with one switch it’s on and the officer is recording.”

But at seven hundred to a thousand dollars apiece, cameras are costly –and are not the only expense.   There is also the issue of storing potentially quadrillions of bits of information.

“The costs actually come in two areas: one of them is in the hardware cost—which is up front—what’s it cost to get these on my officers,” said Stuczynski.  “The other cost is actually harder to put your finger on, and that’s the cost to store this, and that’s been a big debate lately.   Most agencies would want the full control of the evidence, which means they need the infrastructure to hold that. The alternative would be cloud-based solutions, which are coming out now. But the costs associated with those can be extremely prohibitive.”

Fort Worth is on its way to providing about 700 body cams for its officers. Video is downloaded onto a secure server so there is never a chain-of-custody question.

Squad car dash cam video comes on automatically, but most body cams require an officer to turn them on.

“It adds another thing for an officer having to do when they’re getting out on a call,” says former police officer and prosecutor Pete Schulte.

He cautions the human element could be a legal problem because juries are beginning to doubt officer testimony if there is no video to back it up, and a good case might be ruined if the officer doesn’t have the camera on.

“And if it’s an extreme call where they’re ramped up– a man with a gun a man with knife, that kind of call—that’s just another thing for them to try to remember to do.”

Do body cams provide a privacy invasion problem with police going inside your home?

Schulte says not if they have a warrant.  Do you, as a resident, have an expectation of privacy?

“You don’t because you’re inviting the police to come and handle the situation, and with those particular situations there’s no expectation of privacy.”

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