Criminals are having a harder time hiding from justice now that Colorado Springs police have tiny cameras watching and recording them.
In the Colorado Springs Police Department’s first year using body-worn cameras, the department has received fewer citizen complaints, internal affairs investigations are being resolved more quickly, and county prosecutors are getting convictions that before might have fallen flat, officials touted during a news conference Friday.
“We started the body-worn camera program in order to increase transparency and accountability in the community and the Police Department, and I believe we’ve done just that,” Police Chief Pete Carey said.
Most notably, body camera footage helped to clear officers of criminal charges in the February fatal shooting of Misael Cano. Images captured on the smartphone-like cameras that officers wear in the middle of their vests showed Cano firing at officers first.
4th Judicial District Attorney Dan May called the footage “invaluable” to ruling the shooting justified.
The videos have also proved useful in convicting offenders, May said.
One example was during the hit and run case in which Rebecca Champigny was accused of killing 66-year-old Jenny Carrillo in a Fountain Walmart parking lot. Champigny had pleaded guilty by reason of insanity, but prosecutors played the body camera video of her after the crash and her demeanor “says a lot to the jury,” May said.
She was convicted of fleeing the scene, along with a number of other crimes, and was given the maximum sentence of 24 years in prison.
In another case, a parent thought bodycam video would exonerate their juvenile child of charges for possession of alcohol or marijuana, but it actually led the girl to “drop her head” and confess to the crime, May said.
One of the biggest impacts the videos could have is on domestic violence crimes.
Previous studies by the District Attorney’s Office have shown that roughly 50 percent of domestic violence victims recant their story before the case goes to trial, forcing prosecutors to drop charges, May said. But it would be difficult to deny abuse when the evidence is preserved on video, he said.
In one recent case, officers captured video of children describing the violence in their home. It led to a quick conviction.
“The defendant had seen the bodycam, knew he was going to get convicted and made it easy for us to dispose of the case,” May said.
Officers are capturing roughly 4,100 interactions every week, Carey said.
The cameras have been issued to 480 officers and will go to another 50 supervisors, SWAT, K-9, and airport and municipal security officers this month. They’re supposed to be turned on anytime officers expect to take action, such as making an arrest, program supervisor Cmdr. Pat Rigdon said.
“There are very few situations where we don’t record,” Rigdon said.
There are also “fail-safes” in place to protect officers who forget to hit record, Rigdon said, an important feature amid controversies across the country involving officers failing to turn the cameras on or shutting them off. CSPD’s cameras automatically turn on when a police car’s lights and sirens are activated or if an officer is running, he said.
The more frequent problem, May joked, is officers forgetting to turn the cameras off. His office has reviewed videos of officers buying lunch and using the restroom, he said.