If you get pulled over in Lawrence, you are probably going to end up on camera.
Lawrence is the latest city to fit every police officer with body-worn cameras, a move viewed by activists and departments as a way to increase transparency, defuse tensions, improve officer safety and gather objective evidence.
In the process, the new technology is transforming basic police work.
Not only does the Lawrence Police Department use body cams for its 44 patrol officers, cameras also are mounted above the back seats and on the dashboards of patrol cars. The three-camera system, which the department started using last fall, is connected to a Web-based platform that offers access (with varying degrees of authority) to officers, dispatchers and prosecutors.
Detectives re-watch videos in search of clues before seeking charges against suspects. Officers defuse potentially turbulent confrontations by simply pointing to the cameras on their chests. And with the camera’s GPS feature, officers easily find each other by pulling up maps on their car laptops.
David Hofmann, chief of the Lawrence Police Department, called all of it a “game-changer” for the criminal justice system. He expects to see more departments starting their own programs if they haven’t already.
But budgeting enough money to pay for body-worn cameras has proven elusive for some departments, such as the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, which stopped using cameras after a test run in 2015, citing costs to purchase cameras for hundreds of officers. Some Indiana departments ditched their camera programs entirely after a 2016 Indiana law started requiring storage of all footage for 190 days — yet another expense.
Lawrence officials said their contract with Utility Inc. addressed such concerns. The agreement included unlimited data storage for video, and because all of the equipment is leased, officers aren’t burdened with maintenance. The city is paying $330,000 over five years.
The cameras will pay for themselves, officials said, as soon as video footage prevents a single lawsuit against the police department.
“False complaints will hopefully be a thing of the past,” Hofmann said.
Lawrence Mayor Steve Collier said other cities are now noticing — and sending their officers to Lawrence for demonstrations. One mid-sized Indiana department was present during an IndyStar visit in April.
Here’s a brief list of what they’ll find when they visit with Lawrence officers.
CHANGING THE UNIFORM
The changes started with officers’ uniforms, which were specially fitted to incorporate the new body cameras.
Those cameras — deactivated smartphones with different software, essentially — slide into holsters positioned inside the uniforms. The cameras and holsters can be removed by unzipping a vertical pocket.
Lawrence officials didn’t want external cameras that clip onto shirts, for example, because those cameras can be knocked off.
“Nothing becomes dislodged if there’s a confrontation or running,” said Gary Woodruff, Lawrence deputy chief.
Each officer also carries a wristband that can activate his or her camera through Bluetooth connectivity. Some wear the bands on their wrists; others clip them to their belts.
CHANGING THE CAR
Two cameras were added to each patrol car: one on the dashboard facing forward, the other inside recording the back seat.
The dash camera is recording and deleting video on a constant cycle. Then, if an officer flicks on the police lights, all three cameras automatically roll without any deletion. The most recently recorded dash video is saved, to hopefully capture whatever led to the officer activating the lights.
Automatically triggering video recording makes it easier on the officers and leads to more footage overall.
“That’s one less thing an officer has to worry about on the way there,” said Capt. Mark Osborn, who led Lawrence’s implementation. “The officer is under enough stress as it is at that moment.”
Lawrence used dash cameras years ago, Osborn said, but eventually stopped because paying for maintenance and upgrades became too costly. Now they lease the cameras.
Because the system is web-based, officers can view recorded video in real time on their in-car laptops.
Automatic recording has its skeptics within the department, and some citizens have shared concerns about privacy.
One officer’s video accidentally recorded him in his car while he sang “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.” He wasn’t upset, Hofmann said, but he was embarrassed.
INCREASED OFFICER SAFETY
Lawrence police are counting on the system to make officers safer. Most notably: an “officer-down” feature.
If an officer falls to the ground or ends up in a prone position for 10 seconds, an alert is sent to all other officers. Then, because the cameras contain GPS, those other officers receive turn-by-turn directions to the location of the fallen officer, allowing them to come to his or her aid quickly.
“Seconds are crucial when somebody is shot, if they’re bleeding,” Osborn said. “That could be the difference of life or death.”
A limitation, however, is that the feature requires an internet connection. Wireless internet is available in each car, Osborn said, so the feature works within 1,200 feet.
The system also maps the location of each officer. As each unit moves through the city, a green circle moves along the map. The circles turn red when someone is recording, which is a signal to ranked officers that a situation may be unfolding.
Detectives now review video when preparing probable cause affidavits against suspects.
Hofmann spoke about a recent case in which a victim pointed to a knife, telling the officer an important detail. The officer forgot to include that quote on his report, but detectives found it when they reviewed the video.
“In the heat of the moment, the human brain sometimes misses little details,” Hofmann said. “(Video) helps reduce the errors of interpretation.”
The chief also referenced body-camera footage of a foot chase of a suspected burglar. The video showed him still wearing gloves used to conceal fingerprints.
Because the use of body-camera footage is so new, the Marion County prosecutor’s office couldn’t yet measure the impact of footage in criminal cases. So far, though, such footage has helped when reviewing evidence to determine criminal charges, said Peg McLeish, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office.
She noted there are limitations to the usefulness of body-camera video, however. The officer may not be facing in a direction that captures a critical moment on video, for example.
“This footage is only one part of the full investigation considered in any charging decision, which typically also includes witness statements and physical evidence,” McLeish said in an email to IndyStar.
DE-ESCALATION AND RELATIONSHIPS
Officer Devin Randle, one of Lawrence’s early adopters, said he’s used the cameras to soothe irate people. When told they’re being recorded, Randle said, they “take it down a notch.”
If someone is pulled over for rolling through a stop sign or another traffic violation, officers can tell those drivers they have video proof of what happened — which can calm angry drivers.
“It’s a de-escalation tool, definitely,” Randle said.
Having easily accessible video proof can also prevent the deterioration of relationships within the community.
For example, Osborn talked about a man who said all of his property wasn’t returned to him after an arrest. A family member contacted Lawrence police, who showed dash-camera video of the man’s pockets being emptied and clearly showing what he had.
A further dispute could have created a wedge in the community.
Hofmann noted the countless videos you can find on the internet of officers using force on suspects — whether that’s tackling, slamming or even shooting a gun.
“You’ll see videos online of the use of force,” he said, “but you don’t see the three minutes of resistance that led to that. This captures our side of the story.”