Whether motorists are let off with a warning for speeding, or police dogs are brought in for a search of the vehicle, if you are stopped by police in Greenwood, expect to be on camera.
The Greenwood Police Department began using body cameras last year. Since 2015, every traffic stop, search warrant served, car chase, arrest and even drive time on the way to an emergency is recorded — and that’s just a fraction of the times officers are required to turn on their body cameras.
A total of 34 Greenwood police officers, including all 28 patrolmen, wear body cameras. Sheriff Doug Cox would like to have as many as 45 body cameras for his deputies, he said.
Officials say the cameras improve the public’s perception of police, hold officers accountable and provide video evidence of an officer’s conduct.
In the time Greenwood police officers have been wearing the cameras, officials have been able to use them to check out what happened when someone complains about how an officer behaved at a traffic stop, Chief John Laut said. But after reviewing the videos, the officers were not out of line, he said. Only one officer, who used profanity, was not following the department’s code of conduct and officials spoke with that officer, Laut said.
At least once a week, the sheriff’s office gets a complaint about a deputy during a traffic stop, and body cameras would allow officials to review those stops to see what really happened, Cox said.
But local officials also have concerns about the cameras.
One issue is paying to store those videos, which some have estimated could cost hundreds of thousands per year. That has been a key concern for Cox, since buying enough cameras for all the deputies could cost as much as $30,000, and then storing the video could cost as much or more.
Currently, police departments make their own policy on how long to store video files. For Greenwood police, a misdemeanor arrest is kept for three years, while a car crash is only stored for 90 days. Currently, state lawmakers are considering a bill mandating a 180-day minimum for all video files, which would require more digital storage space, meaning a higher cost, which would affect Greenwood, Laut said.
Another portion of that bill would restrict the public’s access to videos, or what they see on the video, meaning a lengthy process would be required upon requesting to see body camera footage. A proposed change now being considered would require police departments to justify keeping video private because it might harm someone or influence a court trial. That would switch the burden of proof from the proposal’s original language, which requires a person requesting the video to prove it would not cause harm.
Both Cox and Laut are in favor of restricting what the public can see on a video because in certain situations, a child may be present during a warrant served, or someone who may not have committed a crime could be seen on the video.
When Greenwood police released a video of an officer using Narcan on a person who had overdosed on drugs to a news station, it bothered Laut, he said. The person who had overdosed was someone’s family member and it was sensitive footage for them, Laut said.
Local police said they are closely following what requirements lawmakers approve for body cameras during this year’s legislative session. Both the sheriff’s office and Greenwood want the cameras, but the price tag might be too high if the bill passes, they said.
In the past year, Johnson County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Jerry Pickett has tried out as many as six different types of body cameras, ranging from $300 to as much as $700 per camera, which would add up to as much as $30,000. Some of those cameras come with their own digital storage system for video files.
But the prices for storage systems are expensive, and adds up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of many years, Pickett said.
Spending money on the cameras would be tough knowing even more would be needed to maintain and store video, Cox said.
“If we have to keep everything we do for 180 days, there’s no way,” Cox said. “If they would let us get rid of certain videos, OK, maybe we could afford it. We’re all smart enough to know incidents that should be kept, like a felony arrest — keep it. I wouldn’t hesitate asking for 45 body cameras, but it would be tough if I say storage will cost an addition $50,00 to $70,000.”
State Rep. John Price, R-Greenwood, is also looking for a way to provide the funding to police to store video files for longer periods of time, Laut said.
Here is a look at where the legislation stands for police body cameras:
Approved by House: 65-30
Assigned to Senate committee
Amendment being considered to address when video should be released to the public, and when it shouldn’t. The change would require police departments to justify keeping video private because it might harm someone or influence a court trial, instead of the person requesting the video to prove it would not do harm to release it.