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an officer holds a bodycam

Police TV

By the end of June, all AAPD patrol officers will be wearing video cameras.

by James Leonard

From the June, 2017 issue

Council authorized the purchase in December 2014 after an AAPD officer shot and killed a woman armed with a knife. When former chief John Seto stepped down in mid-2015, he said he expected the department would roll them out within months. Why the delay?

"There was a sense of urgency at the end of 2014," recalls Jim Baird, who was a deputy chief under Seto and took over the top job when he left. "The national discussion was at a fever pitch about police accountability. And it was right after our fatal force incident."

The department had a pilot program underway by the time Seto left. But that first batch of cameras, Baird says, "were failing at a disturbing rate, 20 to 25 percent. Our vendor came out with a new product, and we're not seeing the fail rate being what it was."

Then there were administrative and legal issues to work through. "We developed a policy in collaboration with the sheriff's office and the Ypsi PD and EMU" campus police, the chief says. "We intentionally rolled it out together."

County sheriff Jerry Clayton explains the issues in an email. "As they were deployed throughout the nation, it became very clear early on that in the rush to equip officers with [body cameras] a whole new concern regarding personal privacy came to light. Because actions and places [caught on camera] become public record, recordings now potentially become accessible to anyone who pays the fee and submits a freedom of information request."

Responding to a FOIA for a camera recording "is not the same as a document. It's so much more labor intensive. You're digitizing over people's faces. You have to look and see if the person was involved [in the encounter]. We want them for police accountability, but do you want the worst day of your life on YouTube? We are entering into people's homes, and do you have a right as a citizen to see what

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this person has on their bookshelf?"

Even before the full rollout, "we've seen a significant increase in the requests we get," says Baird. "We get them from the news media, citizens at large, watch groups, people involved in an incident, [and] people who might have seen a police car at a neighbor's house and want to know what happened. We also have to perform that same function for attorneys. The prevalence of this technology will be such that it will almost be considered malpractice for an attorney not to request all the video."

Baird reviews videos himself when citizens file complaints against officers. He says they have limitations: "If there's some kind of struggle, there's so much movement of the camera that it's hard to tell what's going on," he says. "But there's fantastic audio." That's already been helpful in dealing with unsubstantiated complaints.

"People will call in and say, 'The officer called me this and that,'" Baird says. "And we say, 'Great, let's look at the tape.' And often they hang up on us at that point."    (end of article)

[Originally published in June, 2017.]


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