BPD body camera proving beneficial



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Bloomington Police Sgt. Connolly wears his body camera at the scene of a fire at the Village Deli on Sunday afternoon. Ike Hajinazarian Buy Photos

The #ReclaimMLK protest Monday blocking the intersection of Third Street and College Mall Road turned violent when Michael McConnell, 22, allegedly battered a Bloomington Police Department Officer.

The officer’s body camera was ripped from his chest and fell to the pavement where Brittni Snyder, 29, picked up the camera.

Another officer’s body camera caught Snyder on film kneeling to the ground to pick up the camera Because of BPD’s successful Facebook campaign to identify Snyder, which reached more than 22,000 people, she turned herself in Wednesday. She was subsequently booked on a preliminary charge of theft and taken to Monroe County Jail.

The reported theft of one body camera and the use of another to identify Snyder are a microcosm of the changing times in the world of police departments nationwide.

“It’s new technology,” BPD Chief Michael Diekhoff said. “It’s actually kind of been thrust upon the law enforcement community rather quickly with the events that have happened in Ferguson and New York. There’s a lot of demand for law enforcement to adopt this technology and use it.”

By the time the cameras arrived and were set up in Bloomington, it was April 2014, around the week of Little 500. Using money from the city’s general funds, BPD bought 30 cameras at $700 each.

The model is VieVu’s third-generation model, a “small, lightweight, easy-to-use, self-contained video recorder,” according to the company’s website. It offers HD or wide screen SD resolution, up to five hours of battery life, 16 gigabytes of storage and the ability to download a day’s worth of film in the matter of minutes.

A lightning strike in June delayed the department’s initial testing period after one of the servers that downloads the body camera videos was taken out, but Diekhoff said overall the pilot program has worked pretty well.

“They’ve already proved beneficial in several different cases,” he said.

A dichotomy exists in the implementation of body cameras. While the function and use of the cameras are relatively simple, the implications and surrounding issues of their use are more ?complex.

Diekhoff said while there are better places to clip on a body cameras to an officer’s uniform, there’s not much difficulty to wearing one.

“The officers clip them on the front of their shirts and you just slide a little lens cover down and that turns it on,” he said. “When you’re done, you slide it up and that turns it off, so they’re real simple to use.”

Downloading the captured video from the cameras and uploading it to BPD’s internal server is just as easy as wearing the cameras ?themselves.

However, the recording and archiving of video raises greater issues, such as the storage of evidence and ?privacy concerns.

While Diekhoff said he couldn’t speak for the general public, he guesses Bloomington residents are in support of documenting interactions between police officers and the public. Diekhoff said the officers seem to be supportive of it because it adds a layer of protection for them.

BPD has noticed people act differently when body cameras are present. When people realize they’re being filmed, they tend to calm down, Diekhoff said. He said officers have told him that in the past, people tend to get animated and yell when interacting with officers, but they tend to act differently when they figure out they are being filmed.

Another trend BPD has observed since the addition of the body cameras is that some people who have gone to the station to file complaints against officers have withdrawn their complaints once they are told BPD is going to consult the film from the cameras.

The additions of body cameras have leveled the playing field for BPD in an era when the general public is armed with cellphone cameras that can be used to film police officers.

He said people have a tendency to film things and it’s always interesting to film the police, but now BPD has the ability to look at what happened from the officer’s ?perspective.

“If something happens prior to us having them, if something would’ve happened, we might have had to try to find someone who had video,” Diekhoff said. “Now we have it ourselves.”

Body cameras are not the end-all, be-all for stopping crime. At the end of the day, the cameras are controlled by human beings and humans can make mistakes. There will be times when officers forget to turn their body cameras on, Diekhoff said.

“You’ve got to remember, it’s a piece of technology that has to be turned on in order to work and there will be times where it doesn’t get turned on, so it’s just another tool for officers to be able to use to document things,” he said. “What the public shouldn’t do is pin all hopes on this is now kind of the golden nugget for police-community ?relations.”

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