All three local departments using body cameras on varying levels
Published 9:25 am Monday, May 4, 2015
With recent reports in the national news about claims of abuse at the hands of law enforcement, the use of body cameras by officers has been called for by the Obama administration.
But law enforcement agencies within Pearl River County have been using the devices for some time now.
For the past year and a half officers with the Picayune Police Department have been using the small devices as part of the department’s new policy, said Chief Bryan Dawsey.
Poplarville Police Chief Charlie Fazende said his officers have also been using them. For the past year his staff of 10 full time officers and one part time officer all have their own body camera.
The Pearl River County Sheriff’s Department is using them on a limited basis. However, Sheriff David Allison said he has plans to implement them department wide. Currently two of the cameras are used by their DUI officers and three are being used by narcotics investigators, Chief Deputy Shane Tucker said.
Dawsey said he was first introduced to the new technology by former Picayune Police officer Daniel Davis, who recently became a Mississippi Highway Patrol State Trooper. Davis bought the device with his own money and demonstrated it to Dawsey, the chief said.
When Dawsey saw what the devices could bring to the department he contacted a company that makes them, who in turn sent a few devices for the department to test. After a few months of testing, in October of 2013 the department purchased one for all of their 50 officers and investigators using money from the department’s drug forfeiture fund.
So far their use has helped cut down on frivolous complaints made against officers, said Picayune Police Department Assistant Chief Jeremy Magri.
Capt. Rossie Creel with the Poplarville Police Department said the use of the cameras has decreased the number of complaints made against Poplarville officers. Until recently most of the public was unaware their officers were using them.
“Some have learned the hard way after turning in a frivolous complaint,” Creel said about the video evidence proving the complaint was unfounded.
Magri said any time a complaint against an officer is lodged, he and other key staff have immediate access to the footage because officers are required to download footage captured by the device at the end of every shift. Videos are kept on file at the Picayune Police Department for 60 to 90 days to allow ample time for a complaint to be made. If the video is deemed important for an investigation or complaint, a physical copy is made and is turned over to evidence, Magri said.
While a number of complaints have proven false, Dawsey said there was an incident where the complaint was valid, and the necessary action was taken against the officer.
Body cameras also have another advantage over dash cameras inside patrol vehicles, they follow the officer whereever they go. Previously if a pursuit took place the only video evidence was captured by the dash camera. But now supervisors can see the entire pursuit, including the foot chase.
The advantages also apply to how officers handle themselves. Magri said if an officer knows he’s being recorded he is more likely to keep a professional demeanor. Fazende said initially he was reticent to employ the cameras because he was concerned the officers might be too cautious during a stop or other incident, leading them to make a mistake that could lead to an officer injury.
An individual camera can cost between $200 to $400.
While cameras are not cheap, Dawsey said he’s glad his department was the first in the area to use them.
“They’re worth the money I can tell you that,” Dawsey said.
Officials with all three departments said that officers assigned a camera are required to wear and activate them when dealing with the public.
“When I get out there I’m wearing one as well,” Fazende said.
While the sheriff’s department has a limited number, Tucker said there are plans to purchase more through grants. Additionally they will be cheaper than fixing or replacing the sheriff department’s aging dash cameras by using a mount that would allow the body camera to double as a dash camera.
“We can buy these cameras for the same price as a diagnostic on the failing dash cameras,” Tucker said.