JPD to launch body camera program


JASPER — The Jasper Police Department will soon implement a full-fledged body camera program.

Beginning in the next few months, every officer in the local entity will be equipped with both body and car cams. JPD Chief Nathan Schmitt said that whenever officers are in contact with the public, “we’re gonna want them to have their cameras rolling.”

Schmitt was once against adding the devices because he didn’t want officers — who he said are all honest and honorable — to worry that “big brother” was constantly criticizing and critiquing their performances. Now, he can’t wait to add them to the force.

“Our officers do such a great job that I’m looking forward to showcasing what they do and how they do a good job,” Schmitt said. “And what they put up with, and what they deal with. And I want people to see it.”

The cameras will provide a new level of transparency to highlight the department’s handling of situations, he said, and they will also hold his officers more accountable.

After about two years of research, the department was recently approved by the Jasper Board of Public Works and Safety to enter a five-year equipment and service contract with BodyWorn by Utility.

The contract costs $46,600 each year, equating to $233,000 total. Bodyworn also provides cameras for members of the Evansville Police Department.

Schmitt said one of the biggest pros of the company’s program is that the cameras automatically turn on when triggers activate them. When an officer enters within a certain range of an active call or pulls their gun from its holster, for example, recording will begin reflexively.

“We task our officers — and every officer in the nation — with a lot of responsibility, a lot of things to think about,” Schmitt said. “And they unfortunately are in life-and-death situations sometimes. And when you’re thinking about self-preservation, the last thing you’re probably thinking about is [turning] on a camera, or flipping a switch, or whatever the deal is.”

The cameras will also have a manual activation option. After recording, footage will be uploaded to cloud storage when officers return to their vehicles.

While Schmitt is excited to show off how good of a job his staff does day in and day out, he knows the bad will also be caught on tape, like when officers make a mistake.

Local Indiana State Police troopers do not use cams. Huntingburg Police Department officers have body cams, as do Ferdinand Police Department officers who also have had car cameras since the early 1990s, according to Police Chief Lloyd Froman.

The Dubois County Sheriff’s Office currently equips some personnel with body cameras, but not all are outfitted with the devices and a standardized policy is not in place. That could change in the future, as department officials plan to present a budget proposal to the County Council that is similar to the request JPD gave to the board of public works.

“It’s not cheap, but it is the future of law enforcement,” said Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Stuart Wilson. “You can’t watch the news … anything involving the police, you always hear talk about body cams. To not have them can be detrimental. It helps your officers, it protects your officers.”

Source: The Herald