Granby PD buys body cams
Over the past two years a series of use of force incidents involving police officers and citizens have reignited long simmering debates about community policing in the US.
Those debates have revolved around a number of overlapping issues but among the most prominent topics of discussion have been police body cameras. The Granby Police Department began looking into purchasing body cameras for officers last summer and put the equipment into field use starting in the fall of 2015.
Granby Chief of Police Bill Housley sat down recently with the Sky-Hi News to discuss the department’s new technology, his views on the role of body cameras in police work and community policing in general.
“Those of us in police service are responsible to the citizenry to be transparent,” Chief Housley said. “In today’s society there have been a number of high profile incidents that have led significant segments of society to lose confidence and trust in police agencies. I think it is incumbent upon us in the police service to demonstrate our willingness to do whatever we can to insure transparency and openness in the way that we conduct business.”
Chief Housley went on to explain his hope that the use of body cameras would instill a greater sense of confidence in the Granby Police Department within the community. “We would not conduct ourselves in an improper or illegal manner,” said Housley. “But if something happened they (citizens) can rest on the fact that those actions are going to be recorded, both audio and video. Those actions will be seen.”
The ability to review incidents after the fact and to address citizen complaints is only part of the equation with police body cameras though. The recordings also provide investigators and prosecutors with tools they have not typically had before.
“One of the difficulties often times is to articulate in a written document the emotion that is exhibited by a victim of a crime,” said Housley. “We can say that the person was, ‘greatly distressed, or upset or fearful’ but the ability to have the video of the victim as they are explaining what they went through is very valuable.”
Housley went on to explain that the cameras are aids for increasing the accuracy of human memory, and by extension the accuracy of police reports. “These cameras can help cover some of those human limitations,” Housley said.
The cameras also provide a form of insurance for officers against unwarranted accusations of misconduct or abuse. During the interview Chief Housley intimated a story from earlier in his career in Madison Wis. when an officer under his command had been falsely accused of misconduct. In that circumstance dash-cam footage from the officer’s police cruiser provided evidence that the accusations were baseless.
“It really is protection for the officers,” said Housley. “From my perspective we have absolutely nothing to hide so there is no way the cameras can harm us, they can only help us.”
Housley pointed out that individual officers do not have the ability to erase recordings from the cameras or from the department’s storage server though he, as Chief of the department, does have the ability. According to Housley any time a body-cam recording is erased from the department’s storage server a record of the deletion and what was deleted is created.
The ability to erase non-essential recordings is important for the department, which maintains their own servers for storing the footage, which significantly reduces ongoing costs related to the system. Housley explained that officers do on occasion accidentally film incidents that have no value for the department, such as a recent incident when an officer forgot to turn off the camera before going to the bathroom. Housley confirmed that no recordings of official actions with citizens would be deleted from the server though.
The cameras themselves are made by the company Vievu, a Seattle based business that specializes in body-cameras for police officers. Granby purchased six body cameras at a cost of around $700 per unit along with a dedicated server for storing the footage for around $2,500. The total cost of the whole system was roughly $4,500. Housley explained there was little in terms of ongoing costs to the department related to the body cameras. Each body camera can record up to eight hours of continuous footage.
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