More than a year after equipping all police officers with body cameras to record traffic stops and police calls, Greenwood police are convinced the gadgets are worthwhile.
In fact, police officers say they now wouldn’t want to do their jobs without the cameras attached to their shirts, recording actions and words when they make traffic stops or arrests.
The Greenwood Police Department wants new body cameras that have more technology and unlimited digital space to store video, but that comes with a hefty price tag, and city officials aren’t sure where that money will come from.
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Body cameras are here to stay at the Greenwood Police Department, Assistant Chief Matt Fillenwarth said.
The last year of using the cameras has been a learning experience, he said. Sometimes, video doesn’t always show everything going on because the camera is pointed away from the suspect, or an officer has his or her camera knocked off during a physical struggle with a criminal, Fillenwarth said.
But after a year of using them, officers are realizing the benefits of having the body cameras and say they outweigh the hassle or added responsibility of turning them on whenever they’re responding to calls, Fillenwarth said.
During a time when police scrutiny from the public is at a heightened level, body cameras have cleared officers of accusations of wrongdoing, such as using foul language during a traffic stop, for example, Fillenwarth said.
The video evidence is important because it provides a visual and audio recording of events that many officers feel protected by in case they’re wrongly accused, Fillenwarth said. Since the department began using body cameras, many officers have told Fillenwarth they wouldn’t feel comfortable doing their job without them, Fillenwarth said.
“It’s been a learning experience, but overall, we believe in the worth of the system,” Fillenwarth said.
Greenwood police recorded 18,429 videos on body cameras in 2015. In total, more than 3,000 hours of footage was recorded in 2015 — much more than the department anticipated, Fillenwarth said. Greenwood is averaging about 50 videos, or eight hours of footage, each day, Fillenwarth said.
Greenwood used twice what they are allowed in video storage in its two-year agreement with Taser International, a company that makes weapons and body cameras. The police department paid about $44,000 for 800 gigabytes of video storage per year, more than 60 body cameras and equipment to store and charge them, Fillenwarth said. Greenwood also is charged $1.50 for every gigabyte over the storage limit, which came to about $1,200 at the end of last year, Fillenwarth said.
Through the first year of using the body cameras, Fillenwarth and the police department realized the amount of footage stored would fluctuate because of the city’s policy on how long it keeps certain videos. By the end of this year, Fillenwarth anticipates the department paying an additional $4,000 for storage overages, he said.
The police department has its own policy on how long to store video files. A misdemeanor arrest is kept for three years, while a car crash is stored for 90 days, for example.
State lawmakers approved a bill mandating a 180-day minimum for all video files, which requires all departments with body cameras to have enough digital storage space. The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office is testing body cameras, and the cost for storage is the main reason why the department has not yet made a decision on whether it will use body cameras, Sheriff Doug Cox said.
Fillenwarth has already set the department’s storage to the 180-day minimum, which only made the need for unlimited storage more apparent, he said.
“It’s not like I can go through the first year and delete it all, tagged videos are still there,” Fillenwarth said. “But if we had unlimited storage, it wouldn’t matter.”
Fillenwarth is looking at a five-year agreement that would provide unlimited storage space. But the cost for those five years will be more than $300,000, Fillenwarth said.
Finding the money to pay for it is the main concern. The police department and city controller Adam Stone will determine whether it can be done when the city reviews its budget this summer, Fillenwarth said.
“It’s definitely a possibility,” Stone said. “We have had meetings, we have had talks. But the department also has other needs. We need new equipment, we’re updating the headquarters and we’ll need new police cars.”
Fillenwarth receives calls from other departments throughout the Midwest asking how Greenwood stores video, the cost, how they have benefited from body cameras and what is the down side, he said. One of the main worries about buying body cameras is paying for storage space, Fillenwarth said.
The police department also will have to buy new body cameras soon, replacing the current ones because several broke and others have a lot of wear and tear already, Fillenwarth said.
Additional equipment would be included in the deal. The Tasers that Greenwood police currently use are becoming outdated and slowly phased out, Fillenwarth said. Soon, the department will need to replace those for each officer and that could cost as much as $80,000, Fillenwarth said.
Each Taser would have Bluetooth technology that connects with the body cameras. Anytime an officer takes the safety off his or her Taser, their body camera will begin recording along with the cameras on every officer within 20 feet, ensuring an incident that unfolds quickly would be recorded, Fillenwarth said.
In a situation where officers have to defend or protect themselves, they don’t have a lot of time to turn on their cameras, especially during a foot pursuit, or a physical struggle with a suspect, Fillenwarth said. With the camera automatically recording, officers would have peace of mind that the incident was captured on video, Fillenwarth said.
Body cameras are being used at police departments across the county. Some agencies are testing the new technology, others are already committed to using them full-time. Here is a look at where Johnson County law enforcement stand on the use of body cameras.
Greenwood: currently in its second year using body cameras with plans to negotiate a five-year extension with the company that provides storage and equipment.
Sheriff’s office: tested body cameras from different companies. The department has not decided whether to use body cameras because of the cost of storage.
Franklin: Does not use body cameras. The department is interested in using them, and is considering equipment costs, whether to store footage on a cloud server or on site, a policy for the cameras and who at the department would be responsible for managing storage and data.