More and more police officers are hitting the streets of Edmond wired for sound and video. Currently, 32 of the department’s officers are wearing are equipped with body worn cameras and are videoing their encounters with the public.
It’s not a new concept, as departments around the country are embracing video technology to ensure accurate documentation and understanding of incidents.
Lt. Chris Brown has been wearing the department’s most current model, the Safe Fleet Mobile Vision BWX 100, for five weeks.
“It's a huge benefit for me being on the traffic unit,” Brown said. “Being on a motorcycle, I make a lot of contacts during the day whether they be crashes or traffic stops.”
Before wearing a body camera, the only thing he could see or hear of any event was what his body microphone picked up and what the camera shot on board his Harley Davidson Electra Glide. All police vehicles are equipped with onboard cameras, but their field of vision is limited.
The body cameras are manually activated by pressing a button on the body unit. The unit is always recording in the background, so the moment Brown presses record, the previous 30 seconds is included in the footage, though audio starts at the press of the button.
Currently, when an officer turns on the vehicle’s emergency lights, the onboard camera and body mic are activated. In time, the department plans to incorporate Bluetooth technology to activate the body cams the same way.
Body cameras add a transparency to most situations, but they do have limitations. Since they are worn clipped onto the officer’s uniform shirt at chest-level, and only shoot video with a 129-degree wide-angle lens, the camera’s view is not always the same as what the officer wearing it sees.
“Sometimes it picks up more than what the officer sees,” Brown said.
This can be a benefit, such as in a foot chase, if a suspect ditched a gun or other evidence, the camera may catch where that drop occurred, while the officer may not have seen it.
But Brown said some situations may be better served with a helmet camera to pick up the officer’s actual line of vision. He generally watches his day’s videos and said it’s a good way for him to critique his own manner of handling encounters with the public and make improvements.
He also notices that he tends to think about the camera’s view and adjusts his posture. If he is pulling over a sedan, he said, he tends to lean forward a bit so the camera angles down. Vice-versa for large trucks.
When people see that Brown is wearing a camera, their demeanor almost always changes, Brown said, either for the friendlier, or not. But the public is tech savvy, too, and has been using cameras longer than officers have been wearing them.
“During the week I get at least once a day I’ll have someone recording me, whether it be with their cell phones or they’ll have dash cameras in their cars,” he said.
Dash cams are a growing trend among those who seek the same type of transparency as the officers’ body cams offer.
“I think in the long run it’s going to be beneficial both for the public and the officer; to hold both parties accountable. Not to say that either party was ever untrustworthy or not accountable. With body cam footage, there’s no issue or concern of false statement either way,” Brown said. “The encounter is a little bit easier for both people knowing that the incident is being documented.”