The Hotchkiss Marshal's Office is joining the growing number of the country's law enforcement departments currently employing the use of body cameras. The cameras arrived the week before Christmas and are expected to be in full use by February.
Marshal Dan Miller said the department considered getting body cams for about two years, and his officers have been actively requesting them. "They're really excited to get them," said Miller.
The five cameras, about the size of a deck of cards, each cost $400, and the software was about $200, said Miller. All of the equipment was purchased on the 2015 budget.
Hotchkiss is a small town and the department rarely deals with big crime, Miller said. He believes it's only a matter of time, in light of the shooting in Ferguson, Mo., of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer and other law enforcement-involved incidences, before the cameras are mandated by the state.
The department's patrol cars are already equipped with dashboard cameras.
While there are problems related to body cam use, including privacy issues, the benefits pros outweigh the cons, said Miller. The cameras can be helpful in providing evidence for crimes, decreasing complaints against the department, and have been shown to improve public relations. The resulting footage is also a valuable training tool, added Miller.
Miller said the department researched body cam options before purchasing the Taser Axon, one of the top-selling models, for its durability, reliability and ease of operation. It also can run an entire shift without recharging, and footage is easily downloaded.
Once activated, the camera saves everything from the prior 30 seconds forward. At the end of each shift, or following an incident, footage is downloaded directly to a server, which is accessible only by an evidence custodian. Storing footage as evidence is really no different than maintaining physical evidence, said Miller. The department plans to hold up to a year's worth of video, and in some cases will retain footage longer or indefinitely.
Learning to operate the cameras only takes about a half hour, but that's just a small part of training. Miller said his department plans to have policies in place and ensure that all officers understand and are comfortable using them before putting the cameras into full-time use.
Miller said the cameras can prove invaluable to both the department and the officers who use them, and to the public. "If they prevent a lawsuit and taxpayer money, it's well worth it," said Miller.