Body cameras help police while preserving evidence

BODY cameras and car cameras now in use by the Quincy Police Department are a technological leap forward that will protect the police and the public.

Police Chief Rob Copley said his department spent two years looking at camera styles before settling on ones offered by Utility Associates Inc. of Decatur, Ga. Some other systems had short battery life, could have trouble focusing on what’s happening around an officer or could be knocked off a uniform during a struggle or chase.

“We looked at other cameras, and the number one problem was keeping it pointed where you want it when you’re running or wrestling with a suspect or just moving,” Copley said when the Quincy City Council got a report on the cameras in June.

The 58 body cameras and 17 in-car cameras are based on specialized smartphones. Body cameras will go into zippered pouches on officers’ uniforms so they can’t be ripped off.

Illinois law requires a police camera to have a battery life that is longer than work shifts. Copley said QPD shifts can be 12 hours, and the cameras used by the city have enough battery life.

A GPS system on each camera will automatically turn the device on when an officer is within a certain distance from where a dispatcher has called for a response. The officer cannot shut it off.

Every time a camera is switched on it preserves everything that was recorded in the two minutes before activation.

Using smartphone technology, the cameras can detect whether the wearer has fallen. So if an officer collapses or is in distress, the device can provide turn-by-turn directions for reaching that officer.

Microphones on the cameras also listen for gunshots and automatically start, pulling up the previous two minutes of video, when a gunshot is detected.

During a foot pursuit, the system automatically maps out where an officer is running.

The cameras will wirelessly upload footage, either to a cell tower or a car router. There’s no need to go to a specific site to upload the images.

People who come into contact with officers also are protected by the cameras.

The national trend toward body cameras for police is meant to show exactly what leads up to an arrest or confrontation. The vast majority of officers who handle situations well will have video and audio to prove their actions were necessary.

In those rare instances where police make mistakes, the video will provide evidence if people were treated badly.

Illinois law also requires that camera systems must have a program for redacting faces, license plates or nudity. The Utility Associates system has that capability. By circling a person’s face or an item, the designated part of that image can be blurred to preserve the privacy of people who are not accused of criminal activity.

In a perfect world, society would function well without the need for police. That’s not the world we live in.

Fortunately, body cameras will offer the kind of undeniable evidence that is needed in an imperfect world.