Police Department Body Cameras Benefit Both Department & Public
Marshfield Police Department has continually been on the forefront of technology, and their recent implementation of body cameras for each of their forty sworn officers is the latest technology investment towards sustaining community safety.
“In the last fifteen years, we’ve converted to having cameras in all of our squads as part of the whole spectrum of keeping people safe,” said Chief Rick Gramza, adding that the department had been researching body cameras for a few years, an effort that was expedited after national incidents such as those in Ferguson, Albuquerque, and Charlotte.
“There arose an inherent desire for the public to know everything that officers are doing and if we’re doing everything at the right time for the rights reasons,” he explained. “Oftentimes when law enforcement uses force, there’s question as to the necessity of it and the investment into body cameras is a good insurance policy not just for officers, but also for the community.”
Marshfield Police Department first started using the body cameras last Thursday, and though there is an expected adjustment period, officers have generally been positive about the addition.
“It’s a feeling-out period. It’s going to take officers a while to get used to it,” said Assistant Chief Patrick Zeps. “It’s odd to think of being at work and having many parts of your job recorded. It’s going to take time to get people to get used to that.”
Any interaction with the public, or any situation that could result in an enforcement-type activity or interaction, could be recorded by the officers. Footage is stored on City servers with help from the City’s Information Technology department and per policy remains on the servers for a minimum of 120 days (and varies on a case-by-case basis).
Police Department administrators are responsible for managing the footage and facilitating any open records requests that are made, including any redaction needed.
Time restrictions, storage, and equipment maintenance are concerns, but Gramza is confident that these potential challenges are worth the investment.
“Oftentimes it’s a citizen’s word against the officer’s word. Whether an alleged racial slur or inappropriate contact is being reported, we will now have all that interaction captured on audio and video it could mitigate or eliminate some of those complaints against an officer when they did nothing wrong,” he said. “And it will hold officers accountable if they are being unlawful or unethical.”
“There’s a trend to need more than the word of the officer,” added Zeps. “The cameras act as a security blanket for the officers. They were excited to get out and use them.”
Officers underwent training and policy education before the cameras were implemented. For ease of simplicity and to eliminate data labeling errors, each officer has been assigned their own body camera. Moving forward, officers will continue their duties in the same way as before.
“I think any time we become more dependent on equipment, it can impact how your perform your duties. We want officers to go about as they are trained and do their job in a professional manner, not as if there is a camera on them,” said Gramza.
Though an exciting step for the Department, the public is reminded to maintain realistic expectations of the technology.
“Educating the public and officers- it’s a piece of the whole puzzle. What you see on the video might not be the whole story,” said Zeps.
“What a community member or defense attorney can now look at and put in slow motion and view frame by frame, an officer experienced in real time, in maybe half a second,” added Gramza. “A video can’t include all of the thinking that an officer has to do, nor the entire field of view, so a video can maybe paint an unrealistic picture under that degree of stress.”
Perhaps the most important benefit of body cameras is the transparency they provide.
“A lot of articles I have read talk about how body cameras are not only helping the police police the community, but also how they are helping the community police the police,” said Gramza. “That 360 degrees of accountability is good. It reinforces that the police have nothing to hide. Now you have an unbiased piece of equipment that tells, again not all the story, but a portion of the story that maybe some were questioning.”
“Overall I think it’s a great investment,” he added. “I’m excited to see the benefits at work.”
The Marshfield Police Department welcomes any questions about the new body cameras, or any other police topic. Public hours are Monday-Friday, 7:30am-4:30pm. Business Line: 715-384-3113