Police adapt to new equipment: Body cameras

Gadgets allow cops to record anything from a traffic stop to a hot vehicle pursuit

Oakland, California and hundreds of other police departments across the country are equipping officers with tiny body cameras to record anything from a traffic stop to a hot vehicle pursuit to an unfolding violent crime. The mini cameras have even spawned a new cable reality TV series, Police POV, which uses police video from Cincinnati, Chattanooga and Fort Smith, Ark.

These cameras are smaller than smart phones and are worn on the officer’s chest, attached to shirt lapels, or on small headsets. The cameras, which run about $125 apiece, were brought instead of purchasing video equipment for squad cars, although the body cameras can also be mounted on the patrol car dashboards. The cameras are intended to provide more transparency and security to officers on the street and to reduce the number of misconduct complaints and potential lawsuits. The Oakland department officials plan to equip at least 350 officers by the end of summer.

“First and foremost, it protects the officers, it protects the citizens and it can help with an investigation and it shows what happened,” said Steve Tidwell, executive director of the FBI National Academy Associates in Quantico, Va. “It can level the playing field, instead of getting just one or two versions. It’s all there in living color, so to speak.”

In Oakland, where the department is still under federal supervision because of a case in which four officers were caught planting drugs on suspects a decade ago, the cameras are like another set of eyes, said Capt. Ed Tracey.

Officers are required to turn on their cameras for calls including traffic stops and possible searches. They are also required to download their video within a day and they are not allowed to edit or manipulate it. The video can be stored up to five years.

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