By Dariush Shafa
PERRY COUNTY – The Perry County Sheriff’s Office will begin using body cameras on Friday, using a system that not only increases accountability for the department, but also offers a number of safety features.
Sheriff Alan Malone said the new system, which is uses the BodyWorn platform, takes much of the decision-making out of the process. BodyWorn is run by Utility Associates, Inc. of Decatur, Georgia.
“We’re really excited to get this project started,” Malone said.
The body camera actually runs on a repurposed Motorola G7 smartphone, making use of the device’s on-board camera and sensors. The smartphone is inserted into a holder, and then can be attached to an officer’s jacket or worn inside a sleeve on an officer’s body armor or duty uniform.
Unlike other devices, this isn’t a clip-on camera.
“These aren’t going to fall off,” Malone said, demonstrating how the camera can be worn.
The camera automatically begins recording when certain actions are taken (such as an officer running, turning on the lights and siren on their cruiser, or if they draw their pistol). It also automatically uploads the video and audio to a cloud server using mobile data (like a cell phone) or upon arrival at the sheriff’s office. That also means officers can’t modify or delete the recordings.
“That’s part of the service we’re paying for. This takes it directly out of our hands,” Malone said.
Automation is just one of the advantages, Malone added. Inside most modern smartphones are a number of sensors. An accelerometer can tell how fast the device is moving. A gyroscope can tell which way the device is facing. An on-board GPS module can help establish the location device with a margin of error of several feet.
When tied together, those sensors can help ensure officer safety. If an officer is lying on the ground for too long or draws their pistol, the device sends an automatic alert and location data to every other officer within a certain distance. Similar alerts can also be triggered by the sound of gunshots, opening of gun locks inside a cruiser, and other actions.
“We have the same incidents dealing with people, domestic violence, people under the influence of drugs and alcohol (as big cities),” Malone said, noting that Perry County merely has fewer such problems. “This is necessary.”
That point was brought home on Monday, when Malone and several other officers had to pursue a suspect who was under the influence and running in an erratic path. Malone and his chief deputy, Eric Dickenson, estimated they ran almost a mile (not in a straight line) before they caught the suspect. Having the BodyWorn system would have recorded the entire chase and also automatically transmitted location data to other officers to other officers helping in the pursuit.
“(This) would have been a great tool to have yesterday,” Malone said. “I’ve been doing this for 26 years. This guy was in my top 10. (He was) paranoid, agitated and seeing things. He was at the point where he was a danger to himself and others.”
The Tell City Police Department also uses BodyWorn, having gone live with the system in September of this year. Police Chief Derrick Lawalin said his department is pleased so far and is adding the holster-sensor capability this week, also.
“What every officer will tell you they like about this is there’s so many automated features to this. There’s so many triggers to turn this on that takes it out of the hands of the officers,” Lawalin said. “Another great feature that I’m hearing the officers (talk about), officers are able to view their own footage back. When they’re done with an incident, they can watch the video and make sure all the details are covered in the report.”
Lawalin said it also helps ensure accountability of the department.
“If we do get a call where someone is critical of an officer’s performance or is accusatory of an officer being rude, our admin is capable of recovering that video at the click of a mouse and viewing that back and being able to determine if there’s any grounds to their complaint,” Lawalin said. “Just being able to add that layer of safety for the officers, and that layer of protection to protect them from frivolous complaints, we’ve found it’s a win-win for our department.”
Both Malone and Lawalin said they see this has great potential in helping officers improve their own abilities.
“We’re not trying to micromanage our deputies. We want our deputies to learn too and this is a good learning tool,” Malone said.
Lawalin agreed, saying it allows officers to review their own work and spot areas for improvement.
“They can also critique themselves and say if there’s something they could have done better,” Lawalin said.
Christian Hurtado, a BodyWorn field engineer, said the system also integrates with the computer-aided dispatch system, meaning the camera can automatically turn on when used in an area where officers go repeatedly. It can also be used with mapping tools to show hot spots, and also areas that don’t have enough law enforcement presence. Officers can also assign file numbers to attach the video to cases they’re working on, and they can seamlessly share the video with other law enforcement officers, with prosecuting attorneys, and more.
“There are just so many applications,” Hurtado said.
Malone added that the data transfer ability will make it easier for officers to turn over evidence so cases that can be prosecuted, and this way it’s more likely they’ll have high-definition video evidence to provide.
“I think it’s going to help make our cases even more solid. This is another tool in our tool belt,” Malone said.
And Malone said it is ultimately a tool that helps them pursue their top goals.
“My No. 1 goal is always to be transparent,” Malone said. “I want to be more transparent with the community, and it protects the officers too. It’s going to help our cases and it will tell a story about what happened.”
SOURCE: Perry County News