Back in April, the Charlotte City Council voted to allow the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department to purchase new body cameras for some of their police officers. While CMPD is still deciding exactly what types of body cams they want to buy, they are confident that the new equipment will help better serve both the public and police officers. This morning we were joined by CMPD Major Steve Willis to talk about the departments’ decision to start using these body cameras and how he sees them helping.
Kevin: So why does CMPD want to use body cams and how will this help policing?
Willis: It’s an advancement in technology. We’ve had in-car cameras since the mid-nineties. Those cameras provide a very good perspective, but that perspective is limited to when officers are responding to calls, it monitors their driving, and then it also provides video of when officers stop citizens for various violations. But once the officers leave the front of that car, we don’t have anything that provides us any insight into what happened in a particular incident.
Kevin: Is this something that you see replacing the in-dash cam?
Willis: It very well could. That is something that we are looking at. We are looking to see what is out there and what our opportunities are and what the advantages are. It could be a situation where the particular device we purchase serves a dual role where we capture from a car perspective, where the officer is in the car and he’s driving and interacting with a citizen on a traffic stop, but it also affords them the opportunity to take that camera with them when they walk away from the car.
Kevin: And as you are developing a policy, what are the challenges that you are addressing?
Willis: Ensuring that the public understands that the cameras are there for a constructive purpose. We want them there to capture the types of situations that officers come in contact with that are adversarial, if you will. It’s not every interaction that we have with every person every day that’s going to be recorded on a camera, but it’s those situations where we experience the most complaints. It’s the situations where officers are more likely to have to use force. Certain arrest situations and things along those lines. So we’re using them to protect everybody.
Kevin: Will these cameras be recording at all times?
Willis: It depends on the devices that we purchase. To say it correctly, yes, they record all the time, but some of them, just like our in-car cameras for example, there is a cache of thirty seconds. So what happens is, is when the camera is turned on by whatever function it is turned on, be it manual or some automated method, the camera automatically picks up the previous thirty seconds, and stores that previous thirty seconds of video from the cache to the full recording of the video.
Kevin: Have officers expressed any concerns? Are they concerned that they are going to be recorded at all times? Are there any other concerns that they have expressed?
Willis: There were concerns. You know officers were concerned that because of the thirty-second cache, the questions are if I hit the record button right after I walk out of the bathroom, did it record me in the bathroom? If I have a personal conversation with my significant other on the phone, and I hit the record button right after that conversation, is it going to capture that. And those were the types of questions and concerns that came up. And of course we were able to answer those and provide them with some input on how you can avoid situations like that.
Kevin: If police officers have body cameras, is there a concern that people might be more hesitant to approach an officer?
Willis: We haven’t seen that or heard that. There have been some studies that have been done across the country. There is one in particular in California that looked at officer interaction. It looked at things like uses of force and injury and things like that. And nothing that we are really seeing indicates that it is going to change people’s behavior to avoid a police officer. In many cases the data is showing that it is changing the behavior of how people interact with police officers, in that people that would have had a higher propensity for resisting an officer - once they realized they were being videoed – it changed that behavior. Same thing goes for officers. Officers that may have had issues with rudeness, or whatever the case may be, they realize at the same time that they are now being recorded, and it is a change agent for them as well. So across the board it holds everybody accountable for how they act, how they speak, and how they interact with each other.
Major Steve Willis works for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.