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Buckhannon police to wear body cameras

     

BUCKHANNON, W.Va. — Starting in early 2015, anyone who encounters a Buckhannon police officer had better smile because they’ll be on candid camera.

The department’s nine members should be outfitted with body-worn cameras that will record audio and video by early 2015, Chief Matthew Gregory said. The Buckhannon City Council recently allotted $14,000 for the cameras and powered server to store the data they capture.

The body-worn cameras will protect both the officers and members of the public, officials said. Statistically speaking, a 2013 study by the Police Foundation showed the use of body-worn cameras reduced the number of use-of-force complaints against officers, as well as the number of instances of use of force.

The idea is to start with the body-worn cameras and eventually add in-car cameras, council members said. When allotting the funds, council recommended that the police department test out the body cameras and come back with a proposal at a later time to add a compatible in-car system.

“It makes sense to me to phase it in,” Councilman David Thomas said.

Councilman Ron Pugh said he believes the department needs both systems, and they should run on compatible software.

The department has been researching camera systems for several months. Taser, the well-known manufacturer of stun guns, was one of the companies the department considered. However, Gregory said the department didn’t have much luck when it came to the company’s customer service. He said every time he contacted the company about body-worn cameras, the company’s response was: “Buy one and see if you like it.”

“I’m not sure that speaks well of their customer service if we should have issues with the equipment in the future,” he said.

Department officials narrowed the choice down to two companies. One offers both body-worn and in-car systems, but they run on different software. The other company offers in-car systems and will unveil a body-worn camera system in the first quarter of 2015 that runs on the same software, Gregory said.

The plan is to wait and go with the new system since software compatibility is an important feature, Gregory said.

According to estimates, it would cost about $65,000 to outfit the department with both in-car and body-worn systems, Gregory said.

Each system has its own merits, he said.

The in-car systems, commonly referred to as dash cams, can record the driving actions of motorists in front of a police cruiser. They record officer field interviews with citizens at a wider angle. And most dash-cam systems are equipped with a feature that allows officers to record individuals placed in the back seat of their cruisers, Gregory said.

But dash cams have a limited field of vision, whereas body-worn cameras basically see what the officers see, Gregory said.

“I wouldn’t discount one over the other. Obviously body-worn cameras are more versatile… They go where the officer goes, as opposed to in-car cameras which are fixed,” he said. “Each have their own uses and each play an important role.”

Gregory said he plans to purchase cameras with self-contained digital video recorders, rather than cameras that have wires leading to a DVR that must be carried in the officers’ pockets.

“That could be problematic in a scuffle-type situation,” he said.

Though wireless data-transfer options are available and make it more convenient for officers to transfer information from the camera systems to the server, Gregory said he believes the department would be fine using a wired system.

He also does not believe the use of the body-worn cameras and the accompanying technology would require any additional information technology personnel at the department.

“I feel comfortable enough that we could manage our own data,” he said.

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