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101 1st St NE
Box 12
Bowman, ND 58623-0012

CHIEF: Police body cameras are crucial

January 30, 2015

A look at how a police officer's body camera records the action around them. Bowman Police Chief Chuck Headley gives an example as he draws his firearm at a target. A look at how a police officer’s body camera records the action around them. Bowman Police Chief Chuck Headley gives an example as he draws his firearm at a target.

By Chuck Headley | Police Chief | Bowman Police Department

You might have seen or read in the news recently about police body cameras.

Last summer’s events in Ferguson, Mo., led to the public and government’s sweeping call for nationwide law enforcement accountability through the use of body cameras. Most agencies across the nation have used video recording devices and I have personally been with law enforcement agencies in their use, primarily in car videos since the early 1990s.

While in-car cameras have been highly effective in recording events, they were limited to having only a field of view of events that take place directly in front of the police vehicle. Even that does not tell the whole story—when an officer observes a motorist or their passengers’ actions inside the vehicle, those may justify an officer having to use a level of force up to and including deadly force. Not all contact by police officers with the public takes place during traffic stops.

When a case without any video documentation goes to court, attorneys and the courts often look at it as a “he said, she said” matter. Witness testimony and physical evidence is then needed to support the arrest.

Video is a critical piece of evidence used in part to support a criminal case or perhaps to exonerate an officer. It could also be used to show that an officer was in the wrong.

From an administrator’s standpoint, I welcome this technology.

Historically, I have seen the benefits of recording police interactions.

As a 14-year police administrator, I’ve experienced having members of the public coming into the office to lodge a complaint against an officer, saying that the officer was rude to themselves or to a friend or family member. A number of times, I have sat with those persons wanting to lodge a complaint and reviewed the video with only to have them apologize and thank me for my time; that they were told a completely different story.

When we have captured video that might be used in a criminal case what do we do with it? The system is set up so that the officer then downloads the video captured to an offsite server. It can be pulled up, reviewed and copied for both the prosecution and the defendant’s attorney. Officers are unable to delete the video. It is stored for an undisclosed time on the server and is treated like evidence.

We have used body cameras constantly while on duty since early 2014. They were purchased with grants from the state. Much like your DVR at home, it is always recording until the officer pushes the stop button. By pushing the record button, the camera will record the previous 30 seconds though there will be no audio until the record button was pressed. It will remain recording until the officer presses the stop button.

By now you’re probably wondering if every time you pass an officer or engage in idle conversation with a Bowman Police Officer, you’re being recorded. It is recorded, but it will only be saved if you see the officer press the camera’s record button.

When you get right down to it, you are being recorded on a daily basis by the stores you visit, banks and perhaps in the very homes of friends that you visit.

Rest assured you will not see this department post on the Internet any video recordings of the public, be it on a social media page or any site.

We have the utmost respect for everyone’s privacy and this tool will not be used for anyone’s entertainment.

The only time you will see this happening would be in the event of seeking the public’s assistance to identify a person or person’s image that we were not able to identify who might have fled the scene, perhaps injuring the officer, or for departmental training that we will share with the public.