ST. LOUIS COUNTY (KMOV.com) – Driving around the streets of St. Louis County, there’s a new set of eyes: cameras in more than 400 patrol cars and hundreds more, peering out from officers’ shirts.
Officer Robert Varwig is one of 700 officers now wearing body cameras.
“I love it. It’s very practical, it’s very functional,” said Varwig.
His body camera slips inside his uniform shirt and is controlled by a watch-like device on his wrist.
Officer Michael Clinton and Sgt. Tom Naughton took on the task of getting officers up to speed. The program was only fully in place starting January 1.
Already, according to the officers, it’s been useful.
St. Louis County selected the company “Body Worn” from 11 different vendors. It was the best overall value, officials say, with a price tag of $5 million over five years.
Officers who spoke to News 4 rave about its “officer down” feature.
“If an officer does go down, each device receives Google map directions straight to that location,” said Officer Clinton.
There are other tools, too.
“Another thing is that if an officer is in a foot pursuit, they can retrace their steps exactly where they went, because these devices leave a breadcrumb trail for them,” said Officer Clinton.
But the body cameras are somewhat different from what other departments wear. Instead of on the outside, it’s inside the uniform.
The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department is considering a similar model.
But a source inside the city tells News 4 they were cautioned about that type of technology, because it means uniform shirts, jackets and vests all have to be modified.
So News 4 asked St. Louis County who picked up the cost for that.
“That was all figured into the original contract rate when they did the bid process on this,” said Sgt. Naughton.
“I like to look sharp, crisp and this provides an appearance to where anyone I am dealing with can focus with me,” said Officer Varwig.
Officer Varwig certainly likes wearing his. He hopes that with it, he’s safer and so is the public.
“I think it really re-enforces my decisions and it gives another perspective, especially to a jury, a judge or a prosecutor,” he said.
As for privacy concerns, policies and practices are in place to turn off the cameras during sensitive situations.
The City of St. Louis hopes to whittle down the companies and cost for their cameras in the next month.